DIFF REVIEW: Low budget, high drama

2015-07-21 13:24

Film: The Boda Boda Thieves
Director: Donald Mugisha 
Starring: Hassan Insingoma, Michael Wawuyo, Saul Mwesigwa, Prossy Rukundo
In Uganda’s notoriously gridlocked streets, boda bodas (motorbikes) are used to reach one’s destination quickly. This vehicle is at the centre of The Boda Boda Thieves, a low budget but fascinating coming-of-age film on at the Durban International Film Festival. 

Abel is an unemployed Kampalan teenager who lives an impoverished life in a ghetto. His father, Goodman, is a boda boda operator and laments “all the bad influences around these days”. Abel, we witness, spends his time gallivanting with his friends, smoking cigarettes and gambling instead of searching for work. When Goodman is injured, Abel takes his place as a boda boda driver and uses the nimble vehicle to commit robberies with his friend, Lex. Abel quickly succumbs to the thrills of making easy money and impressing a girl he likes with free rides. When the boda boda is stolen, Abel learns the hard truths of life in his search for this crucial piece of his family’s livelihood.

At the festival screening’s Q&A session, producer James Tayler revealed that the intention of the film was “to shine a bit of light on the predicament of these urban migrants and their children”. Abel finds himself caught between the expectations of his parents to be an honest-living provider and his desire to live his own life by his own rules. Additionally, the film depicts his challenges beyond his family unit. Peer pressure and a naïve nature make for a dangerous combination in Abel. He places his trust in the wrong people. This is best displayed when the expensive television set he proudly buys for his family’s home actually turns out to be broken. When the boda boda is stolen he deals ineffectively with corrupt and incompetent policemen and a businessman who values money over compassion.     

Clever filmgoers will note and appreciate the film’s ties to Vittorio De Sica's classic, The Bicycle Thief.  In The Bicycle Thief a father desperately tries to reclaim his stolen bicycle, the crux of his livelihood, while accompanied by his son. Along the way they face several obstacles not unlike the hardships Abel faces during the film.  “We watched that film about a million times”, acknowledges Tayler. “We consider it one of the greatest films of all-time and wanted to pay homage to it.”
The highlight of The Boda Boda Thieves is the acting. Many cast members were inhabitants in the area and, naturally, bring a sense of authenticity to the film. Hassan Insingoma is effective as Abel; the audience is provided with a real sense of the joy, anger and frustration he experiences in his journey. However, it is Michael Wawuyo who provides the star turn as Abel’s father, Goodman. The scene where Abel finally confesses to his father that he has lost the boda boda is quite painful to watch. “It’s all we have,” Goodman whines piteously and the audience takes in the full extent of a man who overcome with shock and despair. 

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is its use of dancehall, reggae and traditional music in the score. Tayler says the film drew from Kampala’s “crazy, beautiful cacophony of sounds”. Whether it is Abel’s forays at beer halls or a shot of the ordinary working lives of the ghetto people, each scene is enhanced by the sound design.
The Boda Boda Thieves has been selected as one of 12 fiction features in competition here. 

* The Boda Boda Thieves shows at Suncoast Cinecentre on 22 July at 7.30pm and again at the Musgrave Cinema on 25 July at 1.30pm 
Talents Press is a programme of Talents Durban at the Durban International Film Festival which sees 40  film makers from Africa and the diaspora gather for 5 days of workshops, seminars and masterclasses

Every year City Press publishes the best reviews from Talents Press, which is part of the training programme Talents Durban at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) , attended by 40  film makers from Africa and the diaspora. At Talents Press young film critics get to sharpen their reviewing skills.

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