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Story: Dilman Dila

Now I Write Humorous And Light Stories

Assignment from Maisha Film Lab and UNICEF to film in North Uganda in 2008.

21 Nov 2009
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In 2008, Maisha Film Lab in collaboration with UNICEF assigned me a task to make a short documentary that UNICEF would use in a global advocacy campaign to drum up support for Uganda’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals. I had never handled a project of this magnitude, but I had experienced crew and mentors to rely on, for Maisha is a training school where you learn from knowledgeable practitioners from India, Europe and Hollywood.

At times I felt that the mentors were dragging me into a direction I did not want to go, mainly because the culture in which they grew up is so different from mine, so my storytelling point of view would conflict with theirs. However, I learnt such a great deal that I produced quality work, which convinced UNICEF to hand me this task.Professionally, this task gave me experience and exposure at an international level. Personally, it changed my life in so many ways.I had to work in Karamoja and Acholi regions with the worst development statistics in Uganda, to produce a message of hope and opportunity, in the midst of all the misery.  I had been to Acholi before as it is my mother’s land. The beauty of Acholi songs, the enchanting dances and captivating drums never appeared in the news, only ghastly stories about Joseph Kony. When I visited Karamoja, a place I had never been too, my first impression was that I had stepped into an exotic land, much like Dorothy waking up in Oz. The people were fascinating and beautiful, strong and proud in culture, colorful in dress, the land looked like a precious painting. I could not believe that such a wonderful place was always in the negative news for famine and cattle rustling. It opened my eyes about how to present Africa in the media.

Much like a casting director chooses actors, I talked to selected groups of children, to hear their stories and pick the lead characters for the documentary. I thought I was prepared to hear what they had to say, for they are always in the news as victims of Kony and cattle rustling. Yet their tales touched my heart in a way I can never describe.When I finished the film, I wrote a screenplay. I gave it to a friend to criticize it. She was astonished. She asked, “Where are the corpses? The gore? The dark murders?” for my stories always fitted the film-noir and horror genres. (An actress freaked out during the shoot of my ‘What Happened in Room 13’ , as she was drenched in blood and had to be buried alive.)Now here I was writing a love story. It had its sad moments and no happy ending, but it was a story on the ‘light side’ of human nature, and that’s when I realized that my encounter with the children in Acholi and Karamoja had changed my life. For the better.

My imagination can never create anything as dark as what these children experienced. My writings now suddenly seemed trivial, so petty, for each time I thought about them, I heard a child telling me how he killed another child. Truth is darker than fiction. If Steven King talked to them, he would stop writing those horrible books.A strong temptation to film these stories attacked me, but the smile on ‘Lucy’s’ face as she narrated how she helped a child mother return to school, in spite of all the stigma and trauma of giving birth at fourteen, told me what these children wanted to talk about. They were fatigued with talking about their nightmares, the communities fed up with being Villages of Horrors. They wanted to talk about the good things in their lives, like school, so I made a film about them helping other children stay in school in spite of the extraordinary odds against them.

This then is my most significant change. I finally found my niche. I now write humorous and light stories. No dark stuff. It is important to me because I now feel free and mature as a writer. Writing dark fiction is depressing. You end up a paranoid loner like H.P. Lovecraft, or a substance abuser like Edgar A Poe and Steven King. I no longer have nightmares. I stopped smoking. I now have more friends than I can count and I have fallen in love twice within a year without breaking my heart.

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