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Meet Uganda’s film icon Mariam Ndagire

“Congolese Lingala rhythms and South African irresistible Zulu beats faded into obscurity. Then believe, in 10 years, the West African films will be history in Uganda,” affirms Mariam Ndagire, who mesmerized her fans when in 2009 she announced quitting music for film.

“My audience thought it was a tale so untrue, and some still regard me a musician, not a filmmaker. My fans exist in both worlds… but it’s better to call me a writer; that’s my life.”

Four years down the road, she has made filming a canonical profession. Ndagire is the principal of the Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre (MNFPAC) which trains professional screenwriters, cameramen and actors.

With a dream of making filming a success, she has made legendary projects like Dear Mum, Down This Road I Walk, Hearts in Pieces, Strength of A stranger, Tendo Sisters, Where We Belong and many others. Her works are screened on national and international channels, including Mnet.

She considers all her works equally important, though she accepts: “my audience has a passion for my debut film, Down This Road I Walk.”

Mariam observes that, “filming requires talent, passion and discipline. Hard work can turn the Ugandan film industry into the greatest employer.”

She voices imagination as the greatest tool of a filmmaker.

“Let the imagination flow. Create characters that live, breathe and exist independently.”
On the national role, she says: “Film tells the story of a people, it preserves culture, and it is the sure granary of the nation.”

She continues to say: “film is a language; it is a socio-political charter, a discourse of the people.”
Little wonder then that her films are embellished in genealogy and narratology.

However, Mariam does not escape what most audiences think about the artist.
“I don’t write about my self, I write about you!”

She agrees with other African literati like Okot p’Bitek and Chinua Achebe that the artist is the ruler, capable of representing a society ethically and aesthetically. She notes her widest film audience as being aged between fourteen and forty-five.

Mariam’s filming dream became a reality when she spent years in the US taking postgraduate studies in film, evident in her bend to realism. She believes “if film studies are embraced, the industry will be real and the audience will trust the pragmatic content.”

She adds: “trust will be earned when films meet and surpass expectations, which happens with the professional filmmakers.”

She appreciates the government policy that conditions a 70 per cent screening of local content on the televisions. Ndagire mentions Tyler Perry, the African American film guru as her icon. She says the future is bright for the film industry.


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