After the release of Bed of Thorns, a Ugandan film addressing gender based violence and domestic violence by Nabwiso Films, we were honored to meet and interview the brains behind the film and Nabwiso films founders, Mathew and Eleanor Nabwiso. The Nabwisos are both decorated actors, film producers and directors with more than tens years’ experience in the film industry. The films produced under Nabwiso Films are not solely for entertainment but tackling various societal issues like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), HIV/AIDs, among others topics that are not easily communicated on.
Below are some of the questions we posed to the couple and their insightful responses.
What led to the production of Bed of Thorns?
Eleanor: Through Nabwiso Films, we don’t just create films for entertainment but for advocacy, education on different community problems, hence Bed of Thorns. However, we also had a couple of friends actually going through gender based violence, which made me realise that many people were victims and yet not many were bold enough to come out and talk about it mainly because we’ve been socialised by our cultures that it is okay for a man to beat his wife. But also, the stigma around speaking out on these issues. Friends might look at you as insane if you came out and disclosed that you were abused by your partner. This is even worse for men that are abused by their spouses. The fact that some people don't even know when they’re being abused in their relationships, be it emotional or physical abuse makes it difficult to recognise and report abuse. So, Bed of Thorns was a kind of drive to speak about the different forms of gender based violence in our communities, that when people watch the movie and can relate because they are victims or know someone they can know what to do. The main goal of the movie is to bring the awareness on GBV, and that we should not keep quiet about it, hence the hashtag #Tosirika, meaning don't keep quiet if you're being abused, come out and speak up.
Mathew: Talking about #Tosirika, we also wanted to make it known that gender based violence favours no person, victims can both be rich or poor, from the rural and urban communities. But because I am a CEO somewhere, I'm a big manager somewhere, how will I come out to say that my husband batters me or the other way around? Therefore, through #Tosirika, people were encouraged to speak out because if you keep silent, you'll die in silence. This therefore kept the conversation alive beyond the screening of the movie with many people sharing their own experiences and for some, even how they overcame. The movie has been well received and has so far won six awards in London and across Africa. It has also been used to create awareness by organisations like GIZ, Enabel, LWF, the National Teacher Training Colleges in Uganda, among others.
Eleanor: So far more than 9000 people have watched the movie. And after watching the movies, we always have a Q&A and use the feedback to further spread awareness. We also have dialogues between the cast or the producers and the audience.
What is your vision as Nabwiso Films and why do you do what you do?
Mathew: Our vision is to change lives of people in our communities through film, in the areas of say, domestic violence, gender based violence, elements like that. By tackling these kinds of topics we are able to speak to communities and bring a positive message and change in them. But also by giving an actor a job, we're changing their lives.
Eleanor: As I said before, at Nabwiso Films we do entertain, but educate at the same time. For example if I flash back a bit, our first major movie, Rain was about HIV/AIDS and it sold in many places, not just in Uganda, but all over Africa. The feedback we got from different organizations that used it for advocacy was encouraging, over 45,000 people tested for HIV after watching the movie. This further motivated us to address more societal issues through film, that by entertainment we create awareness on matters that are not talked about much often.
Where do you derive your inspiration?
Mathew: To do what we're doing as Nabwisos, we've drawn inspiration from what we used to do. Back in the years we acted in one of the most popular series to date called, The Hostel; Eleanor as Hope and I as Gilo. After we acted about three seasons of The Hostel and the series ended, our fans kept asking us, ‘’What more?’’ ‘’What's next?’’ This is what actually drove us to start our own film production house, Nabwiso Films, to be able to produce more content and stay relevant to our fans and the community.
Eleanor: What inspires us mostly are the fans out there, the viewers, the communities and different societies that depend on our films to get information and awareness about certain things, issues that are a problem but are not often talked about.
Despite having so many achievements, what are you most proud of, and why?
Mathew: We actually feel like we've just started the journey, we are yet to see the actual change, a 360 impact on the lives of people in our societies, in Uganda and abroad. So we don't feel that we've gotten that far yet. We are just along the journey.
Eleanor: Still, having achieved many awards for our work is a step, it's a mark ahead. Because just like for all our projects, we've literally won various awards globally and at home. The movies so far have won over 30 Awards, and knowing that the world is watching and appreciating what we do, is what keeps us moving forward. In fact, after Rain winning the Best Human Rights Movie in London, it felt like, wow, we're hitting our target. We really appreciate and are still hungry to achieve more. We want to touch so many lives and communities; our neighbors, our friends, our families. The statistics showing the different audiences watching our movies prove our achievements, so far so good but there’s more.
What are some of the challenges you've faced on this journey as filmmakers?
Eleanor: It is a big question that I always get; what are my challenges as a filmmaker, as a female director in a male dominated industry, as a female head of a company? I must say these are big shoes I’m in because when you get to do it that’s when you know you can do it, and then you realize you're doing it to your best. So, I haven't really had challenges with my work because I'm firm when working knowing well that women are usually belittled in societies, and put down for roles. When I take on a project, I've done my research and I know I'm going to do my best and that's how I am able to stand my ground as a female director and or producer and am actually a force to reckon with. However, the main challenge I have faced is pretty much trying to find the money to do all these productions because they’re very expensive to do, and yet it's our wish and dream to do many more.
Mathew: As Nabwiso Films I would say we've not had really many challenges because by the time we walked into the industry, we knew what we were doing technically or getting into. We are very creative people with a great vision of changing lives of people through film and that’s how we’ve managed to create a brand that people believe in to the extent that when we call on them to work with us as part of the actors, crew, they don't give us trouble. But just like my colleague said, the main challenge really goes down to production funding, once that is in place the rest is very easy.
What are your dreams or future aspirations?
Mathew: What we look at is becoming the biggest film production house on the continent of Africa. Also going further into Europe and the USA, we want to go big, we want to be the next Marvel, that's what we look at becoming.
Eleanor: I would say my dream as a film producer is to produce more content on topics that the community is afraid of speaking about. We want to tackle issues like female genital mutilation (FGM.), early marriages, which we have already addressed in some of our work but we would like to on a deeper level, go down into the details. This is because with film I have more freedom of speech and expression and can put out more than a counselor would or a person speaking on a podium. Through film people can relate and get educated and also get to know what's surrounding them. And the dream for Nabwiso Films would be really to expose more societal issues out there and change as many lives as possible, touch not only women, but men and children likewise. Nevertheless, we're pretty much living our dream because through Nabwiso films we get to impact lives and create postive change. So we are on the journey to our dream and at the same time living it, which really makes me happy.
Mathew: And that we're also creating jobs for young people and educating young people. That's the dream and we're living it.
Any advice to young people that desire to live their dreams?
Eleanor: My advice to young people out there, it only takes that first step in life to start your journey, once you don't take that first step, you'll never start. So let go of whatever is holding you back, or keeping you at bay and just take the first step. We actually took a first step into it, closed our eyes, drained our accounts and made that first big movie that made us popular and paved the more life changing projects. We took the first daring step, and are now earning from it. So, take that step, take the leap of faith and start. And if you feel like you're doing okay, doing good, make your good better, and don't rest until your better is best.
Mathew: Yes, if you're a young person and you have a dream, walk it, do a lot of research in the area that you want to work in, and walk the talk. The rest will be...