Discover Once Upon a Time in Uganda – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus

The 2020 SXSW Film Festival begins on Friday, March 13! In anticipation of y'all coming here, get to know the films in our lineup a little bit better with our Filmmaker In Focus series.

Check out our Q&A with directors Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez as they tells us about their film Once Upon a Time in Uganda, which will World Premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition.

"I have never heard of a non-fiction story like this ever. The story of Wakaliwood was irresistible. To hear about this community of filmmakers with zero resources cranking out over-the-top action comedies was impossible for us to ignore. Once on the ground in Uganda, we realized just how much bigger and special the story was." Director Cathryne Czubek

In your own words, what does this film mean to you?

Cathryne Czubek: Where to begin?! This film really means everything to me. It’s basically been my life for the last few years! It’s truly been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences and I feel this film really became my personal love poem to cinema, filmmaking, friendship, and collaboration.

The story of Isaac [Nabwana] and Wakaliwood is absolutely amazing. Wakaliwood is one of the most exciting, vibrant, and fun places I’ve ever been to. The way they have connected to their fanbase of millions from all over the world is a wonderful reminder of the power of film to connect and we had an absolute blast making this film. I always joke that I thought New Yorkers had a great sense of humor, but realized it paled in comparison to the Ugandan sense of humor.

I was able to bring on some of my favorite longtime collaborators and met with a whole new group of filmmakers that make up our Ugandan team. I think the entire team would agree that witnessing the Wakaliwood filmmaking and Isaac’s untraditional filmmaking style was pretty freeing and inspired everyone to push our own storytelling. We tell Isaac’s backstory through re-enactments that we actually developed with him, so that collaboration was really exciting - but the core story of the film unfolds in real time - which is a doc filmmaker’s dream.

Hugo Perez: We live in a world that needs as much joy and hope as we can find. And that is what we found in Wakaliwood: joy, hope, and amazing creativity. Wakaliwood has already inspired a generation of filmmakers in developing countries around the world to make no budget cinema fuel by passion and imagination. We hope that our documentary builds on that, and inspires others to go out there and do it.

How did you find your subject?

CC/HP: We found the story through one of our two main characters, Alan [Hofmanis]. Hugo has been friends with Alan for years. We knew from the very first trip Alan made to Uganda in 2012 to find Isaac after he saw the trailer for Who Killed Captain Alex. We began filming 3 years later in 2015 after Alan had moved and Wakaliwood had started getting some attention in the press.

What motivated you to tell this story?

CC: I have never heard of a non-fiction story like this ever. The story of Wakaliwood was irresistible. To hear about this community of filmmakers with zero resources cranking out over-the-top action comedies was impossible for us to ignore. Once on the ground in Uganda, we realized just how much bigger and special the story was.

The friendship between Isaac and Alan - two guys from opposite sides of the world who come together basically over their shared love of Rambo - was obviously really fun to experience and portray. Isaac started with a childhood dream of making action movies and pulled it off with no resources and no formal training. He learned how to build computers and taught himself Premiere and After Effects to edit. He assembled a truly remarkable group of friends to learn kung fu and create props. They can shoot out huge action scenes and finish films at lightening speed!

Alan is a true film nerd who spent his life working in every aspect of film. He followed his heart when he saw a trailer for Isaac’s film Who Killed Captain Alex and the friendship that unfolds is wildly entertaining. Their passion and extreme devotion to filmmaking had us hooked from the beginning. Much like Isaac inspired Alan by reminding him why he fell in love with filmmaking in the beginning - the same thing happened for me and I know that sentiment is echoed by our entire team.

HP: We were drawn to the stories of Isaac and Alan. Isaac who went from making bricks in a swamp for a living, to making action movies with no money, no training but a lot of heart. Even his family and friends thought he was crazy, but he persevered and he did it. Alan, a film nerd, flew to Uganda because of a 90 second movie trailer he saw, and within a few weeks and despite not being an actor became a Ugandan movie action star.These were "truth is stranger than fiction" kind of stories and characters that were just too good not to pursue as documentary filmmakers.

What do you want the audience to take away?

CC: I hope the audience has as much fun watching this movie as we had making it. You’ll meet the zany team of Wakaliwood actors, chase with us through the jungle on a nighttime action scene shoot, and learn about Video Jokers!

But we also really hope everyone leaves as inspired as we are by Isaac and Alan and the entire Wakaliwood community. It took one dream and a ton of heart and creativity and determination for this group of people from a slum in Uganda to impact millions of people around the world… It certainly changed the way I look at life.

HP: Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams even when no one else believes you can do it. Isaac took the resources he had at hand and made magic, and in the process became one of the best known filmmakers on the African continent.

The other take-away is harder to state simply. Working across and between different cultures is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, and investment of yourself, but in the end if it works it moves all cultures forward. In our film, the central friendship of Isaac and Alan shows the challenges and the rewards that can come from two worlds coming together.

Add Once Upon a Time in Uganda to your SXSW Schedule. Stay tuned as we share more interviews with our SXSW 2020 filmmakers!

Join Us for SXSW 2020

Discover what’s next in film with a 2020 SXSW Film Badge. From March 13-22, 2020, experience 10 days of conference sessions, screenings, exhibitions, networking events, mentor sessions, and much more. All attendees will receive primary entry to programming associated with their badge type, in addition to enjoying secondary access to most other SXSW events.

Sign up for SXSW Event Updates and read SXSW News for programming features, registration information, and more.

Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook for the latest SX coverage.

Dive into 2019 Music Tracks

Once Upon A Time In Uganda - Photo by Daniel C. Brit

By Neha Aziz