Imperial Blue is a production that has a practically-grounded faith in African cinema. We believe in international collaboration that shares skills and ideas, and contributes to the success of African film at home and abroad.
Compared to the continental drivers of African cinema – Nigeria, South Africa and the francophone west – East Africa’s contribution to modern film has been relatively slight. In Uganda’s case, it has been almost non-existent, due to a combination of: lack of colonial-era interest in film in the region; a particularly troubled post-colonial period of dictatorship, AIDS and civil war; and the absence of state investment in the cultural sector.
The last ten years have seen a rise in interest in Ugandan film: Wakaliwood, a localised B-movie industry, has attracted the attention of the fashionable western press; film labs, like the Maisha project, have offered brief short courses, led by western professionals; and modestly-supported university faculties have strived despite the odds, such as Kampala Film School. A few international productions, such as Last King of Scotland (Film4) and Queen of Katwe (Disney) came in to Uganda and raised the bar, but left behind a feeling that the budget and opportunities could have been more equitably distributed.
After having worked at Kampala Film School and run the Tilapia cinema from 2011-14, David Cecil discussed with an erstwhile collaborator, Dan Moss, the possibility of producing a feature in Uganda, with an educational element. A cursory financial assessment revealed that a relatively ambitious full-length production, making the most of the country’s stunning locations and talented film-makers, could be made in Uganda at the fraction of the cost of producing a professional film in the UK. Inspired by these figures – and the enthusiasm of allies in the UK and Uganda – Cecil and Moss launched a crowd-funding campaign and kickstarted the production that has become Imperial Blue.
With an eye on the competition, Imperial Blue set out to do several things that rival productions were not:
- The quality of the film had to be world-class, capable of competing in international festivals and being shown anywhere without favouritism or sympathy;
- The overall process had to genuinely contribute to the capacity of the Ugandan film industry, by placing upcoming Ugandan film-makers in key roles of responsibility on a major production;
- The budget had to be within reach of an ambitious Ugandan production company, but without compromising on quality;
- The target audience had to include Africa and its diaspora, with an appropriate distribution policy and company structure.
All of these motives are ideological, but they also stem from a faith in the future of the new African market for quality media products. The African middle class has expanded exponentially in the last few decades, becoming a potential audience that numbers tens of millions. When the diaspora of the US and Europe is included, these consumers of professionally-produced African content represent, globally-speaking, a key demographic that cannot be ignored.
Just as in music, interest in African film media is not limited to Africans only. Productions like Blood Diamond and Last King of Scotland have cleaned up at box offices worldwide and received strong critical acclaim. Meanwhile, technological advances (in digital cameras, affordable lighting, editing facilities, etc.) have allowed production to thrive across the continent. Independent African-based productions have garnered accolades and international distribution – Johnny Mad Dog, District 9, Beasts of No Nation and Tsotsi, to name but a few. Film festivals in Europe now routinely include an African section for their awards, both in recognition of the increased output, and also the historical bias that has stymied Africa’s productive capacity.
While some of the overall ‘Africa rising’ narrative may be exaggerated by the economic optimists, the uptake of African film by the critics and the audience – both within the continent and the diaspora – is real and growing. As the rate of technological change outstrips historic inequality and the world becomes an ever-more connected place, African cinema is finally taking its place alongside the other competitive film industries. We are therefore very excited to be making Imperial Blue at this moment in time and are proud to play our modest part in these important changes taking place in the global film industry.