Ugandan director Peter Muhumuza Tukei’s short film “Kengere” was selected for the Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year. (He also directed a short “Ink,” about a 10-year-old girl who creates another reality using paper silhouettes. He has just returned from the Berlin Talent Campus (“Berlin was a great experience”) when AIAC asked him some questions about his beautifully suggestive stop-motion film in which he relates the story of something that happened in the village of Mukura in 1989.
Could you tell us who you are and where you come from?
I am a 26-year-old multimedia visual artist based in a small village called Bwijanga in the western part of Uganda. I am a painter, photographer and film maker. I went to art school at Makerere University Kampala and graduated with a bachelors, in fine art. I like to experiment with found material to try and come up with art. This style is typical of my community. Hence I represent it.
Why and how did you make this film?
Kengere is my second film–after “Ink” (2009). I started shooting it in 2010 after I returned from the international short film festival in Oberhausen in Germany. It’s a stop-motion animated film using puppets, I think the first of its kind in Eastern Africa. It was interesting for me to do because it involved creating frame by frame for the whole 23 minutes. It was very involving and time consuming hence one of my favorite art projects. I worked with a great friend–Peter Sunna–to edit it and come up with the sound. The whole Idea was to produce something very artistry both in sound and visual.
The puppets I use are typical traditionally made dolls – especially the young girls in my community make these to play as babies. I intended to give them a life, an activity, resurrect them, something I thought would be found fascinating by the little girls.
Also at the back of my mind, with the outstanding presence of cheaper China goods in my country, was the fact that girls have dropped the tradition of making these dolls — dolls are imported from China these days. I made this film for it to be a reminder if not a record not to forget what is ours for what is not.
What is the story behind Kengere?
The story is quite a tough one, a little abstract. We didn’t want this to end up as one of those funny puppet stories. Maybe next time when someone comes across the dolls they remember that they once watched a film made out of those.
We used these puppets to remind ourselves of our political history. In 1989, in a small village in Mukura in Eastern Uganda, government solders accused the residents of being rebels — making only an exception when they could prove otherwise by means of an identification card. Sixty-nine of the residents failed to identify themselves and were hence locked in train wagons and set on fire.* All but one died…and for years our government has tried to erase such history from the people. I used puppets to paint this story. When I talked to actors about making a film out of this story, they didn’t feel comfortable, afraid that the government would come after them. What is the purpose of us as artists? We paint or discuss issues affecting our communities, issues that politicians or other societies aren’t comfortable to address. In the film, a cyclist returns to his village to look for a cassette tape that contains the voices of the victims.
* For a slightly different account of the events covered in the film, read this.