A rambunctious, stylish shout-out from Uganda, "Divizionz" marks an entirely fresh alternative to every dominant trend in African filmmaking.

A rambunctious, stylish shout-out from Uganda, “Divizionz” marks an entirely fresh alternative to every dominant trend in African filmmaking. More streetwise than Francophone productions on the continent, livelier and more energetic than the vast majority of staid South African movies and considerably more cinematic than pics out of Nigeria’s “Nollywood” video movement, this urban misadventure involving a quartet of Kampala youths could become some kind of landmark in indie sub-Saharan filmmaking. Solid run at top-flight fests should boost vid sales in mainly Euro and African markets.

Though made by the film collective labeled (very much in the spirit of the film itself) Yes! That’s Us, pic is primarily the work of group members Donald Mugisha and James Tayler, who shared work on the impressively confident and quirky helming, writing, lensing and editing, as well as producing.

Suitably enough, this collaborative effort is about a small group of aspiring hip-hop musician friends, living in Kampala’s Kamwokya slum and sparked by the prospect of an open-mic session in a downtown club. Kapo (Kyagulanyi “Bobi Wine” Ssentamu) leads the pack, but he can barely keep the others from sniping at each other, since they rep different tribal groups from all over the country. In ways perhaps most appreciated by Ugandans, the film serves up a metaphorical tale for national divisions that may be difficult to overcome.

Kapo trusts Bana (Mark “Buchaman” Bugembe) to provide them with a soundtrack CD for their gig, but Kanyankole’s (Catherine “Scarlet” Nakyanzi) suspicions about the slightly crippled but aggressive Bana prove well founded. Bana hoodwinks the group, which also includes young Mulokole (Bonny “Lot” Olem), after a startling raid by thuggish tax authorities, who use intimidating methods with impunity.

The filmmakers’ roving, hand-held DV camera, usually set with a wide-angle lens, generates a tremendous amount of propulsive energy without being excessively flashy or obtrusive. (The sole exception is an occasional stab at split-screen, which never quite works.) The action is set in degraded slums that are nearly as awful as those in some of the Filipino films of Brilliante Mendoza and Khavn, and “Divizionz” shares the latter’s rambunctious sense of humor.

A conclusion that brings Kapo and Bana’s conflict to a flashpoint (presaged by an opening pre-credits snippet) suggests a certain sense of hopelessness, but the vigor of the film itself conveys tremendous optimism about young African creative artists. Besides a foursome of actors whose energy is barely contained onscreen, the non-pro thesps in several scenes — variously in enclaves of illegal drugs or in evangelical church sessions — seem to be hardly acting at all. Music by groups Roadblock and Chillum Woods Sound add to the high-octane level.

Divizionz

Uganda-South Africa

Production

A Deddac (Uganda)/Switch Media (South Africa) production, in association with Uganda Intl. Film Foundation, Firebase Crew, Collywood Films, Bigtime Entertainments. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Donald Mugisha, James Tayler. Executive producer, Adolf El Assal. Directed by Yes! That's Us. Screenplay, Donald Mugisha, James Tayler, Eunice Baguma, Kyagulaanyi Ssentamu.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Tayler, Mugisha; editor, Mugisha; music, Chillum Woods Sound, Roadblock; production designer, Samson "Xenson" Senkaaba; sound, Alex Ireeta, Allie Mutaka; sound designer, Neno Prods.; re-recording mixer, Neno Prods.; associate producers, George Kafeero, Nathan Magoola; casting, Petna Ndaliko Katondolo. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Oct. 29, 2008. (In AFI Los Angeles Film Festival--World Cinema; also in Berlin, Karlovy Vary, London film festivals.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Kyagulanyi "Bobi Wine" Ssentamu, Mark "Buchaman" Bugembe, Catherine "Scarlet" Nakyanzi, Bonny "Lot" Olem, Patrick Katsigire, Kemigisha Keloy, Simple Awany. Narrators: Kyagulanyi "Bobi Wine" Ssentamu, Mark "Buchaman" Bugembe. (Luganda dialogue)

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