If you were on the Internet around 2015, you might be familiar with the viral phenomenon that is Wakaliwood, a “slum” neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda from where self-taught director Isaac Nabwana churns out bombastic DIY action comedies. Though they rack up online views in the millions, Isaac’s low-budget films weren’t money-makers due to a lack of proper distribution — something Alan Hofmanis, a Wakaliwood superfan and well-meaning New York-based publicist, wanted to help change.
Once Upon a Time chronicles the ups and somewhat perplexing downs of Isaac and Alan’s partnership, but their murky beef doesn’t detract too much from the documentary’s greatest strength, which is its showcasing of the scrappy spirit shared by Isaac and his volunteer collaborators: the actors who gleefully throw themselves in the mud for him, the “voice jokers” who provide riotous live narration at his screenings, and the props man who can jerry-rig just about anything his scripts call for. As Isaac points out, filmmaking is a business in the rest of the world — in Wakaliwood, it’s a passion. If Once Upon a Time does one thing, it’s faithfully transmit Isaac’s pure love for the craft — and, in doing so, reinvigorate us with the infectious joy that animates all of his movies.
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Nabwana IGG, V.J. Emmie
Director: Cathryne Czubek