SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: There is an East African saying: ‘an empty sack can’t stand upright’. This describes how success comes through collaboration. A case in point is The Boda Boda Thieves, the latest film by the Yes! That’s Us collective. The film is a co-production, which involved six companies from Europe and Africa.
The film tells the story of a young man who takes over the family “boda boda’ (a motorcycle taxi in east African countries) only to lose it soon after. The film follows his search for the stolen motorbike through the streets of Kampala, giving insight into contemporary Ugandan youth culture and the generation gap in urban Africa.
South African producer, writer and co-director James Tayler of Yes! That’s Us, a pan-African filmmaking collective, believes that filmmaking is all about the art of collaboration and that this film would not have been possible without the buy-in and support of both the crew and the community in which it was shot. “We always credit our films as directed by Yes! That’s Us because we want to acknowledge the creative input and passion of everyone involved in the production and their role in realising a shared dream.’
After receiving development support at the Produire au Sud workshop in 2010 at the Festival des 3 Continents in Nante, the film was pitched at Africa Produce, a co-production forum hosted by the African Film Festival of Cordoba in Spain in 2011. It was here that Tayler (Switch Films) and Ugandan co-director and co-producer Donald Mugisha (Deddac) were able to cement South-South collaboration by bringing Kenyan company Hot Sun Films on board. This offered them access to high-end production equipment and strengthened their proposal. They received development funding from South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) as well as the Hubert Bals Fund, an initiative of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. They went on to receive the biggest chunk of the World Cinema Fund and win the VFF Pitch Highlight Award at the Berlinale Talent Project Market in 2012.
The maverick indie-film production company Augenschein Filmproduktion based in Cologne, helped seal the European funding and with this and a lot of sweat equity from Africa, the film went into production in August of 2012.
Despite a number of external challenges the film was successfully wrapped in this first phase. When it came to doing the last few pick-up shots and action sequences needed to complete the film however, the team faced further challenges and Tayler soon learnt that the benefits of co-production are not limited to funding. “Our star actor became involved in gang activity and was in and out of jail, which really delayed the last stretch of production. When he was finally put away for a long stretch of prison time we found ourselves in production limbo. With the help of our co-producers we edited as much as we could and eventually found a way to work around the situation in terms of script and by using a body double for some of the action sequences. This meant the production cycle was much longer than anticipated and we were in need of completion funds and post-production resources. That’s when we found a partner through Fixer Films with a fantastic NPO called Slum Dwellers International,’ comments Tayler.
Slum Dwellers International (SDI) advocates for slum dwellers’ rights by empowering communities through job creation, youth development and cohesive community action for better service delivery. SDI was looking for an entry into films and media made for and by slum dwellers in support of its Know Your City campaign. As The Boda Boda Thieves is set in the ghettoes of Kampala, and touches on the issues that affect its people, the story was a good fit for the organisation, which provided the last stop-gap funds to help finish the film.
Tayler concludes, “In the end we had six co-producers on board and each one of them believed in the project and provided a vital stepping stone to the completion of the film. We received amazing support at every level – financial, practical and emotional.’
The Boda Boda Thieves made its premiere in the Forum of the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival this year, went on to screen in competition at the African Film Festival of Cordoba and makes it’s North American premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival in June.