The story behind Wakaliwood (a.k.a. Ramon Film Productions), the studio celebrated in 101 Films & AGFA’s forthcoming ‘Wakaliwood Supa Action Volume 1’ Blu-ray release, is almost like a fairy tale. The studio is based in Wakaliga, a slum in Uganda’s capital of Kampala. It was set up by filmmaker Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (a.k.a. Nabwana I.G.G. or simply Isaac), who makes films for his local community. In this poverty-stricken area, he not only shoots commercials and music videos but extravagant action movies made with sub-micro budgets, that he and his cast and crew sell door-to-door on DVD to his neighbours.

Back in 2010, Isaac uploaded a trailer for his make-shift action extravaganza Who Killed Captain Alex? on YouTube. A couple of months later, after he’d forgotten about it, he got a call saying that his video had over 1 million views. It became a viral hit without him even realising it.

Those numbers kept going up (it’s currently at 3.8 million and the complete film, which was uploaded later, has 8.1 million views) and, whilst many viewers were simply laughing at the ropey special effects and over-the-top nature of the trailer, Isaac would receive calls and messages from people around the world who loved what he did and wanted to get involved.

One such person was Alan Hofmanis. This New Yorker was blown away by what he saw in the trailer and seeing as he’d recently been dumped by his girlfriend (for whom he’d just bought an engagement ring) he figured he had nothing to lose and headed over to Uganda. Since then, he’s gone on to produce most of Wakaliwood’s following films (they make a lot) alongside Isaac and co-founded Ramon Film Productions International with the director, to help spread the Wakaliwood love on a global scale.

From then on, Captain Alex and the first film Hofmanis was involved with shooting, Bad Black, have gone on to play at film festivals around the world, picking up a number of awards along the way.

Wakaliwood is now invading Britain, with 101 Films & AGFA’s Blu-ray set, which includes Who Killed Captain Alex? and Bad Black alongside a huge bounty of special features. Being the action-movie fan that I am, the release very much appealed to me, so I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

Who Killed Captain Alex?

Director: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (a.k.a. Nabwana I.G.G.)
Screenplay: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey
Starring: Kakule William, Sserunya Ernest, Bukenya Charles, G. Puffs, Kavubu Muhammed, Kasumba Isma, Faizat Muhammed, Nakyambadde Prossy
Country: Uganda
Running Time: 71 min
Year: 2010

Who Killed Captain Alex? sees the titular character initially arrive in town with his elite commandos to help put a stop to the local Tiger Mafia gang, who are led by the unhinged Richard (Sserunya Ernest). Alex wastes no time raiding one of the gang’s drug deals and captures Richard’s brother in the process.

Furious that his brother is behind bars, Richard sends a spy to help capture Alex but, that same night, someone kills the captain.

Though his adversary has been killed, Richard is still angry, because he wanted to do it himself, so he and the commandos both ask the question, ‘who killed Captain Alex?’

Joining this investigation is Alex’s brother, Bruce U (Bukenya Charles), who wants to avenge the Captain’s death. When he befriends Richard’s ex-wife Ritah (Nakyambadde Prossy), who had been left for dead by the gangster, Bruce ends up siding with the commandos to take down the Tiger Mafia in an epic showdown.

It’s difficult to review Who Killed Captain Alex? in any traditional sense as, on the surface, it’s quite shoddily made. It’s often classed as one of those ‘so bad it’s good’, ironic favourites due to its technical shortcomings. However, to view the film like this is missing the point. Captain Alex isn’t a misguided flop made by film industry professionals in Hollywood who should know better. It’s a film made for around $200 (or likely even less, as Isaac has suggested) in a genuine slum in Kampala by a man enlisting unpaid members of his community to cobble together what they can to make something they can all enjoy and be proud of.

Actors brought their own costumes and a lot of the camera gear and props were handmade. Guns were put together from bits of scrap metal and the team even made a full-scale helicopter shell in their backyard. Isaac’s computer, used for editing and special effects, was cobbled together from discarded or second-hand parts too.

Even basic things we take for granted can be a big issue for these guys. One of the biggest problems is not having a reliable, steady electricity supply. Dropouts and surges whilst editing have led to files and hard drives being corrupted or fried, causing whole films to be lost. The original master file for Captain Alex, in fact, was erased. The copy available here had to be sourced from an old DVD.

With all these things in mind then, the fact that such an action-packed, special-effects-heavy film was made at all is a miracle. Yet Isaac and his team churn them out on a regular basis!

Isaac says he’d never been to a cinema until he was 20 or so. There wasn’t one nearby and he wasn’t able to afford it growing up anyway. However, he heard about films from his brother, who was a bit older and would describe and act out his favourite scenes. Through these reenactments, Isaac knew he wanted to make his own movies one day. This background certainly rubs off in Isaac’s films, which are economical in the way they seem to quickly skip to the best bits!

This ‘more action, less talking’ approach might mean the film is pretty slight when it comes to substance and anyone looking for a well-developed narrative will be disappointed, but Isaac made much better use of his time, in shooting the action scenes.

Yes, the special effects used to make the blood splatters, muzzle flashes and explosive helicopter-bombing finale (I kid you not) are more than a little ropey, but the set pieces have such energy behind them it’s impossible not to get excited by all the mayhem on display.

Also, most of the fighters in the film are actually trained in martial arts (admittedly self-taught for the most part), competing in tournaments and such outside of filmmaking. So the frequent kung-fu fights in the film are actually pretty well executed. They throw more convincing moves than a lot of Hollywood actors and seem utterly fearless, so throw themselves into their stunts with relish.

On top of the context in which it was made, what also helps set Captain Alex aside from a lot of the ‘so bad it’s good’ crowd is that the filmmakers clearly know that what they’re making is just goofy fun. You only have to listen to the VJ (video joker) track they play alongside the film (I dig into this further when discussing the disc itself) to realise it’s all a laugh. Everyone involved is clearly having a great time and that rubs off on the audience.

There are many bizarre touches to the film too, such as the wild music cues, that often change abruptly. A pan-pipe version of ‘Kiss From a Rose’ plays regularly and one Tiger Mafia drug deal is scored by a karaoke instrumental version of Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’!

Overall, by the usual professional standards of cinematography, writing, acting etc. you couldn’t call Captain Alex a great film but you’ve got to admire the passion and ambition of these guys. Considering how little they were working with, it’s a remarkable achievement and the ‘can-do’, DIY attitude of the Wakaliwood team is infectious.


Bad Black

Director: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (a.k.a. Nabwana I.G.G.)
Screenplay: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey, Alan Hofmanis
Starring: Nalwanga Gloria, Bisaso Dauda, Nakaye Jane, Ssebankyaye Mohammed, Kirabo Beatrice, Kabuye John, Alan ‘Ssali’ Hofmanis, Nattembo Racheal Monica, Nakatudde Madinah, Kizza Manshoor, Ann Namatovu, Kasule Rolean
Country: Uganda
Running Time: 72 min
Year: 2016

Though officially released in 2016, Bad Black started shooting back in 2011, around the time that Alan Hofmanis arrived in Wakaliga. It has a more ambitious and elaborate story than Captain Alex.

It opens with an epic pre-credits action scene stemming from a botched bank robbery that initially seems disconnected from what is to follow.

After the credits, we witness the trials and tribulations of a young girl (Kirabo Beatrice), who runs away from home and ends up becoming part of a gang of young child slaves to an ex-commando. When the mistreatment gets to be too much, the girl murders her master.

We then jump forward ten years and the girl has grown up to be Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria), who is the boss of her own gang made up of the now adult gang members she’d suffered alongside.

Bad Black rules the streets but, one day, she steals the dog tags and passport of an American doctor, nicknamed Muzungu (Hofmanis – muzungu is slang for a white person or tourist). The police won’t help him but a young boy, ‘Wesley Snipes’ (Kasule Rolean), trains him to be an arse-kicking commando so that he can get the stuff back himself.

Muzungu manages to storm Bad Black’s hideout and put her behind bars but the boss’ gang members soon plot to get her out, leading to more explosive mayhem.

In amongst all this, we follow the story of a rich local figure named Hirigi (Bisaso Dauda) who is having problems with his son, who has got a girl from the slums pregnant and wants to marry her. The story eventually links in to everything else, when all is revealed in a dramatic finale.

Surprisingly, much of Bad Black is based on a true story, or at least local tales about a gang leader. It might explain the greater emphasis on story and character here. This approach is welcome, showing that Isaac wanted to push things forward a couple of years down the line. There’s a surprisingly strong bit of social commentary here too, looking at the class divide in the country and the problems of child poverty. However, the storytelling is still quite clumsily executed and this added layer does lead to less action in the mid-section when compared to the dizzying carnage of Captain Alex.

From a technical standpoint, Isaac has successfully made a great leap though. Yes, the film still looks cheap compared to the type of thing we see on cinema screens in the first world. However, more thought has been put into lighting, framing and camera movement than before. The bits following Bad Black’s childhood have some particularly atmospheric night scenes.

The action scenes are much slicker too (whilst retaining their ‘homemade’ quality). The extended opening sequence is truly spectacular and contains a car and bike chase and some pretty hair-raising stunts. The martial arts scenes are even stronger than before too, choreographed and edited with considerable skill.

So, whilst Bad Black is still a bit messy in terms of storytelling, I admired the fact that Isaac was clearly improving his skills and expanding his scope. It could have done with a little more action perhaps, but when it comes it’s very impressive. Once again, the film is more than a little rough around the edges but it’s hard to knock such an ambitious achievement. Long live Wakaliwood!


Wakaliwood Supa Action Volume 1 is out on 13th February on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by 101 Films as part of their AGFA range. You can order it here. The picture quality is a tricky one to judge, due to the materials they had to work with. The original Who Killed Captain Alex files were lost, so the print we see here had to be sourced from a DVD copy. As such, it’s not going to be troubling your HD or 4K system. In transferring Bad Black to Blu-ray, the makers were thankfully able to source the original footage, so this looks much better, but it was still shot on a low-end digital camera (in SD, I believe) so don’t expect colours that pop and ultra-sharp details. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of what the films look like.

Similarly, the audio is rough around the edges but, given the circumstances, you can’t expect much better. On Captain Alex, you get a choice of watching with or without Emmie’s VJ (video joker) track, which consists of a voiceover narration explaining what’s going on, making jokey comments and amping up the set-pieces with excited remarks.

The VJ track on Captain Alex is a lot of fun. I would recommend watching without it for your first watch of the film though, as it can be a bit distracting and the subs for it clash with the actual subs for the film. Once you’ve seen the film, watch it again with the track on though, as it makes for a fun Rifftrax-type watch, Ugandan style!

VJ’s are common in Uganda. Isaac describes how they bring films alive, with their distinctively vibrant style and I can see what he means.

On Bad Black, you are forced to watch with Emmie’s VJ track. This is a shame, as I’d have liked to have had the option of watching the film ‘clean’, but it’s still an enjoyable aspect of the experience and, to be honest, I think I wouldn’t have known what was going on without Emmie’s narration!

There are plenty of special features included in the set:

– WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX with or without VJ Emmie
– BAD BLACK with VJ Emmie
– Director’s Commentary
– Behind da scenes
– Trailers and commercials
– Interviews and news clips
– Music videos
– Welcome videos for 14 countries
– Fan videos from around da world

It looks like a short list on paper but, in reality, this is a mountain of extra material to get through and it’s as enjoyable as the films themselves. In fact, it helps you much better appreciate them and understand why these shouldn’t be considered ‘so bad it’s good’ trash.

The commentary on Captain Alex is a lot of fun. Isaac and Hofmanis explain how the film was made with pretty much no budget, which makes for inspiring listening for any aspiring filmmaker. I certainly felt for Isaac hearing how hard he worked to buy a basic MiniDV camera, so he could make the film.

In the Bad Black commentary, Isaac and Hofmanis discuss why Wakaliwood films might seem unusual to audiences brought up on Hollywood fare, explaining how they do things differently in Uganda. The track takes a more serious slant than the other one in places, as Isaac discusses the social problems that inspired the story. He also discusses criticisms people have towards his films, explaining how cultural and societal differences make it difficult for everyone to appreciate where he’s coming from. There’s still fun to be had though, as you learn how the film was put together in the community with next to no money.

The ‘Behind da Scenes’ of Bad Black is made up of on-set footage and a voiceover from Hofmanis. It’s a great little piece as it gives you an idea of how the films are put together. You can see how hard they work and how much of a community experience it is, with a crowd always watching as though it’s live theatre. You get to see some of the editing process too, so the video covers a lot. A kickstarter video included on the disc works in a similar fashion.

The news pieces are also valuable additions. Most of them really seem to get what Isaac and co are doing and present some wonderful interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. They tend to focus on the difference these films are making in the local community. The more recent news pieces also help you see how Wakaliwood has developed since the two films in this set were made. You can see Isaac and co have gradually acquired and built more equipment.

My favourite of the news clips were the Inside Africa ones, which tended to get some of the best interviews, and the Vice film, which is the slickest of the bunch.

There are tonnes of ‘welcome videos’ included in the set. These are specially made for each and every festival the Wakaliwood films have screened at. They’re wonderfully wholehearted efforts, with new action scenes and goofy gags created just for the screenings.

I love the Fantasia Q&As too. It’s heartwarming to see the filmmaking team interact with audiences across the world that are responding so positively.

One of the big treats of the set is the collection of trailers from Wakaliwood. They have some frickin’ amazing-looking films in their back catalogue and not all action, there are some crazy horror movies too. Hopefully 101 Films brings out some or all of these because I need these films in my life.

There are also a couple of commercial films made by Isaac and his team. They bring their usual zeal and wacky humour to proceedings, such as a martial-arts filled advert for a takeaway stand!

You get a heap of fan films too. Largely very short with many made by teenagers and kids, it’s heartwarming to see how Ugandan no-budget community-produced movies have inspired wannabe filmmakers around the world. Some of them merely add Emmie’s VJ narration to other films (which is very funny in the ‘Cool Cat’ video) whilst others go all out to create their own make-shift action scenes. One or two of the films are excessively loud YouTube efforts that didn’t appeal to me or seemed to be making fun of the Wakaliwood films, rather than appreciating them for what they were, but mostly the fan films are worth watching.

Among the fan films is an essay on Captain Alex by YouTuber I Hate Everything. He runs a series talking about ‘bad’ movies but, right from the offset, he explains why this film is something different. Yes, it’s poorly made by most standards, but you need to put it in context. The maker does a great job of doing this. I also loved hearing about the care package he received when he ordered the Captain Alex DVD.

Another fun and unusual addition to the set is a collection of music videos made or inspired by Wakaliwood. Some of the tracks are pretty cool. One of these is even a laid-back funk/jazz-fusion instrumental dedicated to the kung-fu master Bruce Yu! Another is a touching tribute to Isaac’s grandmother, who raised him. This features at the end of Captain Alex but can be seen in its entirety here.

All in all, this is a superb release. Yes, the films won’t appeal to everyone but, if you spend the time to work through the several hours’ worth of special features, you’ll appreciate just how special Wakaliwood is. Hearing their story is deeply inspiring and heartwarming. Let’s hope Volume 2 is around the corner and there are many more to come!


Wakaliwood Supa Action Volume 1 - 101 Films
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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