SXSW 2020: Once Upon a Time in Uganda

Wakaliwood action director Isaac Nabwana filming a scene with the help of Alan Hofmanis wielding the boom. Photo credit: Daniel C. Britt.

Once Upon a Time in Uganda takes us behind the scenes of Wakaliwood by way of a friendship between two people from across the globe.

As the documentary opens with the camera pulling back in thrilling fashion, Andrew Hollander’s score would have us believe we’re watching a thriller.  The truth is that this film is not a thriller.  There are some portions of the story that do manage to give off an action vibe.  However, this sort of just comes with the territory.

Alan Hofmanis is a film programmer from New York.  Isaac Nabwana is a filmmaker who just happens to be one of the stars of Uganda.  If you were in Toronto this past September, one of his films played the Midnight program.  The rest-as they say–is history.  Or maybe not.  The film offers some insight into how Isaac Nabwana works as a filmmaker.

There’s something about film that manages to draw people together.  The film offers a living proof.  Two people on different sides of the globe are able to come together because of this very thing.  If Isaac’s work had never gone viral, there’s a chance that he might never have appeared on Alan’s radar.  And yet, it did and it took Alan on a journey to Isaac’s filmmaking home of Wakaliwood.  I love how filmmakers Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez film the initial introduction with a thriller vibe.  It hits the exact tone that you’d probably expect from watching Isaac’s films.

Once Alan arrives and meets Isaac, he learns that they have more than just film in common.  Both of them share a love for the Sylvester Stallone character, Rambo.  Naturally, Alan ends up making films with Isaac–often getting a producing credit.  But just like any partnership, things can start to feel tense along the way.  Isaac’s rising fame may just be the thing that starts to break them up.

While Alan Hofmanis didn’t produce Crazy World, the film premiered during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.  It was my introduction to Isaac’s films.  Granted, I didn’t really know much about the film until after it premiered in the Midnight program.

Once Upon a Time in Uganda shows how our love of film is able to transcend culture.

DIRECTORS:  Cathryne Czubek, Hugo Perez
FEATURING:  Isaac Nabwana, Alan Hofmanis, Harriet Nabwana, Bisaso Dauda

Once Upon a Time in Uganda was set to hold its world premiere during the 2020 SXSW Film Festival in the Documentary Feature Competition. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.