Uganda blocks screening of films on Rwanda genocide

The blocking of the two films on Rwanda Genocide comes on the back of diplomatic fallout between the two countries.

RIGHTS | Authorities in Uganda last week forced abortion of screening of films on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Crime24 can has learnt.

The films, ‘100 Days’ and ‘Shake Hands With The Devil,’ had been organised for screening at the National Theatre by African Movie Night Kampala, but the Media Council wrote to the organisers demanding that the films had to be classified and cleared for screening.

“It has come to the attention of the Media Council that a film, ‘100 Days,’ is set to be screened at the National Theatre to different audiences and that you have been putting out advertising material about the same without having them classified as required by the law,” a letter signed by Media Council chairman Paulo Ekochu reads in part.

Sendo Cleaners

The April 1 letter, addressed to the producers of African Movie Night Kampala and National Theatre, quoted Section 9 of the Press and Journalists Act, which it said mandates the Media Council to censor films, plays, video, tapes and related apparatus for public consumption.

“The purpose of this letter is to remind you to have your film classified to obtain the necessary clearance,” Ekochu said. “You are further directed not to proceed with the planned screening unless and until classification is obtained from the council.”

The classification in point is SNLV (sex, nudity, language, violence) which determines a film’s rating and whether they are good for public consumption based on parental guidance that might be required.

Rwanda last week marked 25 years since the start of the Genocide against the Tutsi in which more than a million people, including moderate Hutu, were slaughtered in just 100 days. The pogrom, from April 7 to July 4, wiped the social fabric of the central African state.

Over the last 25 years, Rwanda has been rebuilding and healing from the wounds and trauma afflicted by the ethnic cleansing. Marking of the Genocide anniversary is one of the activities around the world to pay tribute and call for ‘Never Again’ commitment from allover the world.

In Kampala, the screening of the two films was part of other activities organised in memory of the victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

African Movie Night Kampala had planned to commemorate this macabre incident with two films for the month of April.

‘“100 Days’ was the first film about the genocide, shot and directed by Nick Hughes, a BBC cameraman who covered the pogrom in 1994, while ‘Shake Hands With The Devil’ is a film based on a book by similar title by Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian army general who was the commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda at the time.

But veteran arts and culture journalist Moses Serugo said African Movie Night Kampala could not meet some of the demands from Media Council and aborted the screening instead.

Among the demands African Movie Night Kampala could not meet included payment of $150 (about Shs600,000) that the Media Council required to trigger the classification.

Although the figure might look measly, the organisers say they could not make any economic sense if they parted with that much for classification since the screening was not guaranteed to fill the theatre.

“The Media Council’s Film Classification Secretariat rained on our parade with legislation that inhibits the consumption of (cinematic) art by way of armchair ticking off of SNLV (sex, nudity, language, violence) boxes and a hefty $150 for that process,” the organisers said in a statement announcing the cancellation.

“We have objected to both alongside questioning the cinematic competencies of the people that do the actual classification. We believe that the fee, especially, is an inhibitor to a nascent industry that ought to benefit from unfettered access to markets by way of baiting eyeballs and getting African films seen.”

Over the recent past, African Movie Night Kampala has been screening several films that depict the stories of African figures and communities, usually picking films based on anniversaries.

During Nelson Mandela’s anniversaries, they screened films about the South African anti-apartheid icon. They also screened ‘Mama Africa,’ a film about the life and career of South African singer and anti-apartheid crusader Miriam Makeba.

Media Council did not demand the SNLV for these films before screening, which has left the organisers perplexed and wondering if there was politics involved.

Rwanda and Uganda were immersed in frosty diplomatic relations beginning this year over allegations that Uganda was harbouring rebels and dissidents working to distabilise Kigali.

The fallout affected movement of goods and services across the borders of the two countries with Ugandan authorities intensifying a crackdown on Rwandan-related services in the country.

However, Pius Mwinganisa, the secretary to the Media Council, declined repeated request for a comment on the matter from this website.

Serugo said they could not fightback and opted for a tactical retreat because Media Council threatened to “unleash” the Media Crimes Department of Uganda Police on the organisers, but that they were looking to leverage technological advancements to continue with their works.

“Thankfully, we are in the age of disruption with the thought police mostly playing catch-up even as they labour under the mistake of inhibitive legislation,” the organisers said.

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