The prevailing attitude in Hollywood and around the world has long been that to make a successful film, you need a big budget. Ugandan filmmaker and director Isaac Nabwana is proving that is just not true. Nabwana combined his passion for cinema with a determined attitude to bootstrap his way to success. He has built a cult following for his films, all made on shoestring budgets. Nabwana has made over 40 films through his film company, Ramon Film Productions. Nabwana lives in Wakaliga, a slum in Kampala, Uganda. Nabwana spent his youth enraptured by American television shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Logan’s Run and Hollywood figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Lee, and Chuck Norris. He spent his 30s learning the necessary skills and in 2010, he shot and edited his first action film, Who Killed Captain Alex? Since then, he has made a number of films, most in the action genre.
The budget for Nabwana’s movies is no more than $200 per film. According to Nabwana, there is something more important than money: “It is passion that really makes a movie here.” His films are made with volunteer cast and crew, equipment hobbled together with whatever spare parts they can find, props like guns made from wood, and surprisingly realistic gunshot injuries created by filling free condoms from the local clinic with fake blood. Nabwana edits the films with his self-taught skills. Distribution is also largely bootstrapped, with his team selling DVDs door-to-door. The Wakaliwood YouTube channel has also been instrumental in building fans around the world.
All signs point to Nabwana’s success as a filmmaker continuing to grow. A recent Kickstarter goal to create a Ugandan action movie studio called Wakaliwood was exceeded by an astounding 8,238%. Wakaliwood, a play on the slum’s name and Hollywood, is fitting due to the burgeoning film industry Nabwana created. A former New York film festival director, Alan Hofmanis, even moved to Uganda from NYC to work with Nabwana after seeing a trailer online. Hofmanis mostly works on the promotion side but sometimes also acts. Isaac Nabwana wants “everyone in the world to know that they can do something with very little. That they can create something that is good and enjoyed all over the world.” He is now getting the opportunity to share that message with aspiring filmmakers around the world through the internet.