DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT

I was excited to participate in this special African film project, commissioned by the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Much of my work deals with various kinds of cross-cultural encounters. I'm interested in the meeting point, when two people from different cultures/backgrounds come together and search for a mode of communication. My work often explores the process of "looking" cross-culturally and the interplay between the observer and the observed.

Uganda was really an unknown entity for me. In a very general sense, I was interested in collecting a collage of images and observational vignettes that captured the diversity of everyday Ugandan life; however, I intentionally went to Uganda without a specific agenda or set of expectations. I was very conscious of NOT beginning the project with pre-conceived ideas of the place and people. Rather than executing a specific plan, I was more interested in responding to what unfolded and emerged before me during the journey.

Obviously, once I arrived in Kampala I did need to make decisions on places to visit, but overall I left everything very loose and open. My filming began, the day after I arrived, with an invitation to a Ugandan wedding. I was expecting a small, modest affair but it turned out to be the most lavish, extravagant wedding I've ever attended. The day included a visit to the beauty salon for elaborate hair styling, a kitschy church wedding, and an enormous reception with guest appearances by local pop stars.

One thing led to the next. For example, one night after listening to music in a hotel bar, Gertjan Zuilhof (curator for IFFR) and I noticed signs in the lobby advertising an African Women's weightlifting competition. The following day we wandered over to the hotel and discovered an amazing group of women lifting weights in the middle of an ornate banquet hall. It was a surprising and wonderful image.

Other highlights included a visit to a video hall in a slum area in Kampala, where a resident "VJ" did a live translation of a Bruce Lee film from English to the local Lugandan language. We also traveled to the Entebbe Zoo where hundreds of energetic school children swarmed the grounds in packs, wearing brightly colored uniforms. One Sunday I filmed an enormous Pentecostal church service until I was "discovered" and quickly and forcefully escorted out. Other wonderful discoveries included: a kickboxing school, a group of Ugandan independent filmmakers at work on set, and street kids learning break dancing at a local youth center.

The most meaningful personal experience I had involved my visit to HOPE NORTH, a school located in Northern Uganda in the Masindi region. Founded by the Ugandan artist, Sam Okello, HOPE NORTH is a school that provides an education and home for children displaced by the civil war that has ravaged Northern Uganda for the last 20 years. Many of the kids at Hope North have suffered tremendous loss, displacement, and personal trauma - a number of them were abducted and forced to serve as soldiers in a brutal war. Arts, music, and dance are an essential part of Hope North's culture and help to heal many of the emotional wounds that these kids have suffered. At Hope North, I was able to speak to, and interview, several kids who were forced to serve as soldiers; they shared very intimate, personal stories with me. My conversations with these kids were intense - I couldn't believe the atrocities they had endured. I was inspired by their resiliency and determination to rebuild their lives. However within the film I only refer to their pasts very briefly. I wanted to concentrate instead on their daily rhythms as students and playful teenagers immersed in academics, vocational training, fine art, and music and dance.

For the subjects represented within the documentary the question "Where are you taking me?" also moves beyond curiosity into a confrontation of the politics and ethics of the documentary contract. Sometimes the question registers in a subject's eyes, less often it is stated - as it is several times in this film. It is an inquiry that can never be fully answered, and one that implicates the audience.

STYLISTIC APPROACH

Stylistically, I was interested in creating a visually driven hybrid film form that combines characteristics of experimental and documentary film. Within this piece I was interested in the interplay between naturalism and stylization. On the one hand, the film is anchored in a very naturalistic world but it also has elements of abstraction and stylization. I wanted to create a distinct sensory world with its own geography, textures, colors, and sounds. Much of the piece is structured in a series of long observation tableaus where action unfolds within a static frame. By emphasizing various poetic moments, I hoped to create a piece reflective in sensibility, with careful attention to form, composition, and visual rhythm.

In the end, I don't intend for the film to have a specific message. I wanted to steer away from the dominant and stereotypical images of Africa and Uganda - war, poverty and disease. It seems that people have very few images of Uganda to draw upon; in this piece I wanted to present some new and unexpected images of a beautiful and complex country and people.

- Kimi Takesue / Filmmaker

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