First-time directors Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo were both born and raised in Uganda, "so I have a strong connection and love for the country," Sharp says. It's what would ultimately drew them back home to make the film Bobi Wine: The People's President.
The documentary centers on Ugandan singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as Bobi Wine, as he attempts to topple Yoweri Museveni's oppressive 35-year regime during the 2021 Ugandan presidential election. The People's President was produced by Sharp and John Battsek, who previously produced the Oscar-winning documentaries One Day in September and Searching for Sugar Man.
"When I first met Bobi and [his wife] Barbie, I was struck by their extraordinary passion and determination to change Uganda," Sharp says. "They were willing to risk so much in the face of overwhelming oppression. It seemed very obvious that documenting this story was essential. They gave us unconditional access."
Making the film, however, also put the filmmakers on the frontlines of the resistance. Bwayo says, "Making this film has been a blessing and an honor. In the six years following Bobi, I was identified by the Ugandan regime. I was arrested, spent nights sleeping in a crowded police cell, locked up in jail, and interrogated. And in the final months leading up to the presidential election, I was shot in the face at close range. My wife and I had to flee the country to safety after attempts were made to kidnap her. We could not live in Uganda anymore. We are now seeking political asylum in the United States."
The People's President premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it was acquired by National Geographic. Both Sharp and Bwayo hope the film has the power to "instigate transformation."
"We very much hope that this film will give hope to all those who struggle under dictatorial regimes," Sharp says. "Bobi and Barbie are incredibly inspiring and self-sacrificing. We also ask that those who fund the oppression from the more developed world will make free and fair elections a prerequisite of their support."
"I hope that this film can inspire those seeking democracy around the world," Bwayo adds. "And the Museveni-led regime will be called to account for the human rights violations that continue to be perpetrated upon the Ugandan population."
Below, the filmmakers share five documentaries that they consider essential viewing.
Directed by: Greg Barker
We had a wonderful editor on the Bobi Wine film, Paul Carlin. The Bobi Wine story was very much crafted in the edit. Ghosts of Rwanda was a film Paul had worked on a while ago. It's a crushing story of a people abandoned, left to be butchered while we, in the West, looked on. When I was looking for an editor, the fact that Paul had worked on this film was important. Being South African, he had an understanding of Africa, and it was the same Africa that resonated with me. Ghosts of Rwanda is a hard watch but a must-see. —Sharp
Directed by: Sam Benstead
Sam was one of our DOPs on the Bobi film. He's very talented and contributed a great deal. I met him in Uganda when he had just completed Coach Zoran and His African Tigers. It's a wonderful film, told with both humor and sensitivity by a very accomplished storyteller. Set in South Sudan, it tells the story of a coach trying to lead the national team, of non-professional players, to success. However, the challenges are immense. —Sharp
Directed by: Mira Nair
Mira Nair has been a mentor to me through the years, and her body of work has influenced and inspired my work greatly. I met Mira Nair at the 2013 Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, which Mira facilitated. For her recent feature, Queen of Katwe (2016), she took me under her wing. She mentored me through the production process of the film, from meeting Bill Willer, one of the film's writers, as they wrote the script in Kampala; to recording the Ugandan cast's ADR in one of Mira’s home offices, which I transformed into an ADR recording studio; to traveling to New York in 2016 to attend the film's sound mix.
In India Cabaret, Mira follows two cabaret dancers in a Bombay cabaret house. She gained incredible access to her characters' spaces, bringing to the screen beautiful verité footage cut with talking heads of the ladies, and juxtaposed with the customers who frequent the cabaret house. With this beautiful film, Mira explores 'the respectable' and 'immoral' stereotypes of women in India. She coined the Maisha Lab slogan, 'If we don't tell our stories, no one else will.' I reflected upon this quote while making the film Bobi Wine: The People's President — a story very close to my heart with a message of changing a nation, this phrase cannot be more accurate! This quote has become my mantra and helped shape the lens through which I look at the world. —Bwayo
Directed by: Marc Singer
I saw Dark Days while at Kampala Film School in a directing the documentary class. I was compelled and inspired by Marc's dedication to the story when I saw the film. Marc, who had never made a film by this point, had relocated to New York and was struck by the homelessness problem on the streets of New York. He met a group of homeless New Yorkers living underground on unused tunnel networks. He built close friendships with them and joined them on and off for months living closely in the subway networks with his protagonists before making a film about them. His courage to give up comfort for the story, and dedication as he follows these characters, has greatly inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day. Building trust with characters takes time; sometimes, you must leave your comfort zone to archive it. —Bwayo
Directed by: Daniel McCabe
When we started following Bobi Wine, Christopher Sharp recommended it. Daniel's film is a work of extraordinary courage. He got incredible access to the Congolese army and rebel lines in the years of filming. The film explores corruption, continued insecurity, and decades-long war in the mineral-rich Eastern region of DRC. They go to the front lines with an army general fighting to push back the M23.
The film is loaded with beautiful images and courageous verité filmmaking, cut together with images of an army general in silhouette who speaks in secret to expose the country’s inner-workings, and complex and challenging history. I have great admiration for Daniel's work. I had the honor to work with Daniel recently as an executive producer on his recent documentary, Grasshopper Republic. It follows a group of grasshopper trappers on their journey to find their flying gold nsenene (a family of grasshoppers, a delicious street snack) in the Ugandan remote regions of western and central Uganda. —Bwayo