The Ugandan film industry doesn’t go the adventurous path often. Filmmakers have typically played it safe with mundane dramas, and the vacuum for thrillers is one Loukman Ali has exploited exquisitely during the past two years.
With Sixteen Rounds, the second installment in an anthology of short films produced in collaboration with screenwriter and director Usama Mukwaya, Loukman manages to deliver intrigue, suspense, well-paced plot, and striking cinematography, all things the Ugandan film industry has been starved of for several years.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to a seemingly happy couple – ex-soldier Captain Ddamba (Michael Wawuyo Jr) and his wife, Dorothy (Natasha Sinayobye). Very early on, we are given a glimpse into Captain Ddamba’s disturbed mental state, through flashes of gruesome wartime recollections, headaches, and a nicotine addiction.
Dorothy plays the role of a caring wife convincingly, bringing her husband water and medication. However, as the film progresses, we see that the relationship is not as perfect as we have been led to believe. What follows is a series of shocking revelations, suspense, and intrigue.
What I loved about Sixteen Rounds
Loukman plays to his strengths with this short film, centering the set design, lighting, camera angles, and color grading as the most impressive things about the entire experience. As in his previous projects, The Girl in the Yellow Jumper and The Blind Date, Loukman is meticulous about portraying darker skin tones in the most flattering lighting, even during scenes shot at night.
For a short film, Sixteen Rounds presents the viewer with an impressive variety of locations, skirting around the boring one-set format many budget-constrained Ugandan films tend to favor. From rooftop scenes to the fictional Kalangala Correctional Facility, the film doesn’t cut corners when it comes to set diversity.
The film is peppered with several standout scenes and shots, but there is an especially commendable effort with the battlefield scenes, the CGI and acting several levels above the Wakaliwood fare the Ugandan film industry has gained global notoriety for.
The film also makes some impressive music choices, using Fred Masagazi’s classic, Alululu, to set the tone for Captain Ddamba’s murderous intent, and enlisting the vocal talents of Kenneth Mugabi to stamp that decidedly Ugandan feel to a world class project.
Sixteen Rounds also touches on an issue many Ugandans usually shy away from – mental health. Through its portrayal of Captain Ddamba as an ex-army man suffering from PTSD and an array of other mental issues like addiction and anxiety, the film sheds light on the reality of many Ugandans living with mental illness, especially those who have served in the country’s armed forces.
There is also admirable attention to detail when it is revealed that Dorothy has been switching out Captain Damba’s medication – valium – for another drug, impairing his treatment and, possibly, acting as the catalyst for his spiral into psychosis.
What could have been better
However, for all its triumphs, Sixteen Rounds still manages to fall short in a few places. Their attempts at making the blood and gore look realistic are unsuccessful, and in some instances, the requirement that the viewer completely suspend belief becomes too strenuous.
Even with these trip-ups, Sixteen Rounds is easily the best project to come from the Ugandan film industry this year. The supporting cast of seasoned actors Jack Sserunkuma, Patrick Musisi Nkakalukanyi, and Raymond Rushabiro give phenomenal performances.
But the standout performance, head and shoulders above the rest, is Michael Wawuyo Jr. Ugandan film enthusiasts will be pleased to witness Michael in what may be his best performance to date.
The actor underwent a dramatic transformation for his role as the psychotic Captain Ddamba, honing his lean frame to a sinewy muscled form that the ladies may appreciate in a few shots, shaving his head, and growing a bushy mustache, completely shedding the heartthrob image he had portrayed in past films.
His onscreen chemistry with the talented Natasha Sinayobye is undeniable as they try to one-up one another throughout the film, their ability to transition from a loving couple to a pair at murderous odds a true testament to their skill.
With The Girl in the Yellow Jumper becoming the first Ugandan production on Netflix just a few days ago and Sixteen Rounds garnering almost 250,000 views on YouTube in 2 months, Loukman Ali seems to be on track to bringing quality Ugandan film to the world. If you haven’t got around to watching Sixteen Rounds yet, you can watch it for free on YouTube here.
Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.