MAKING THE FILM
THE ROTTERDAM FILM COMMISSION:
This film was commissioned by the International Film Festival Rotterdam as part of a special series on African Film. One of the main objectives behind the initiative was to increase the visibility of African cinema at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Rotterdam was particularly interested in discovering new, young, talented African filmmakers whose work had not yet reached the international stage. As a visiting filmmaker, I was asked to help facilitate a dialogue between local Ugandan filmmakers and the Rotterdam Film Festival. Overall, the Ugandan film infrastructure is quite small so I quickly became acquainted with a number of Ugandan filmmakers, working in both the independent and commercial sectors. Rotterdam then commissioned work by African filmmakers for the series, and also asked the visiting filmmakers to make pieces about their impressions.
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 traditional church wedding, and an enormous reception with guest appearances by local pop stars.
On another day, I noticed signs in the lobby advertising an African Women's weightlifting competition. The following day I wandered over to the hotel and discovered an amazing group of young women lifting weights in the middle of an ornate hotel banquet hall. Again, it was a surprising and wonderful image.
Other highlights of my trip, included a visit to a video hall in Kampala, where a resident "VJ" did a live translation of a Bruce Lee film from English to the local Lugandan language. I also traveled to the Entebbe Zoo where hundreds of energetic school children swarmed the grounds in packs, wearing brightly colored uniforms. 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. To help with the emotional healing process, the school integrates art, music and dance into its curriculum. Hope North is an inspirational place that helps to empower and prepare kids for a better and more hopeful future.
At Hope North, I was able to speak to several kids who were forced to serve as child soldiers; they shared very intimate, personal stories with me. I was inspired by their resiliency and determination to rebuild their lives. However, within the film I only refer to their pasts very briefly, in order to provide context. I didn't want to define these kids by the horrors of their pasts. Instead, I wanted to present their daily rhythms as students and playful teenagers immersed in life at school. http://www.hopenorth.org/
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE TITLE?
WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME? is a question that applies to the viewer, the Ugandans in the film, and to myself, as the filmmaker. 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. How are these images being appropriated and for what use? How will these images be disseminated and consumed? What right do I have to take these pictures? 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 both the filmmaker and audience.
CHALLENGES WHILE FILMING IN AFRICA:
As an Asian-American woman wandering through the streets of Kampala with a camera there were legitimate suspicions about who I was and what my intentions were in filming. Most people assumed that I was a journalist with a specific agenda; there was a lot of fear that I would likely misrepresent a situation. These concerns were justifiable--so often, in the context of Africa, people's images are appropriated and misused. People also assumed that I was directly profiting from "stealing" their image and therefore expected to be paid, if filmed.
I spoke with one young Ugandan man about this issue at length. I asked to film him and he initially refused. He was concerned that his image might be used out of context---for example, to inaccurately illustrate a news story on poverty or AIDS in Africa. I then explained the Rotterdam project to him—that I was an artist, and my intention was to show everyday aspects of Ugandan life, filtered through a very personal lens. Once he understood that I was an artist, rather than a journalist he was willing to be filmed. It was rewarding to have this personal dialogue but it wasn't always possible. At times, it was frustrating to be denied access, but I understood and respected people's concerns about filming.
Stylistically, I was interested in creating a visually driven hybrid film form that combines characteristics of documentary and experimental 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. This formal strategy encourages a viewer not only to look, but to continue to look, hopefully more deeply, and, thus, to become aware of the complicated, and often changing, spatial and personal relationships revealed by the camera.
WHAT IS THE FINAL MESSAGE OF THE FILM?
I don't intend for the film to have a specific message. Within the media, I feel we are inundated with images of Africa and Uganda that relate to war, poverty, hunger and disease. As outsiders, we get a very distorted view of a particular place and people. WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME? is filtered through a very personal lens, but I hope it offers images that speak to the beauty, vitality and specificity of everyday life in Uganda.