Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana, an action-film director from Uganda, is about to have his moment in America thanks largely to a Long Islander who’s been working behind the scenes.
Alan Hofmanis, an East Northport native, flew to Uganda nearly 10 years ago to meet Nabwana and wound up staying to work as the filmmaker’s unofficial publicist, agent and occasional star. “People ask me, why am I there?” Hofmanis says. “I think he’s a genius.”
Hofmanis has become a kind of ambassador for Nabwana’s low-budget but highly imaginative action films. His output is so prolific (more than 30 films and counting) that he likes to call his hometown Wakaliwood. As for Hofmanis, his years of working on the director’s behalf — entering the films into festivals, helping launch a Kickstarter campaign, flying back to New York to meet with film-industry insiders — are finally paying off. He has secured a home-video distribution deal for Nabwana that begins later this year. He also will embark on a tour to host Nabwana’s “Bad Black” (starring Hofmanis himself) at more than two dozen theaters across the United States. That tour begins Monday, May 13, at no less prestigious a venue than Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. It is also scheduled to be screened May 23 at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.
“I’m so honored,” Nabwana, who could not obtain a visa to leave Uganda, said by phone from home earlier this week. “It has been our dream for so many years that someone could come and find our products and reach them all over the world.”
Hofmanis, a former film-festival programmer who also worked at Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre, first heard of Nabwana when a friend showed him a trailer on YouTube. Commenters poked fun at the crude special effects and shaggy fight choreography, but Hofmanis was intrigued by the creativity and resourcefulness on display. Two weeks later, Hofmanis was in Uganda, asking directions to Wakaliga, a slum in the capital of Kampala.
“I think I bought the world’s most expensive movie tickets,” Hofmanis recalls telling himself. “And there wasn’t even a theater.”
What he found was a village with little to no electricity and ditches for sewers. There, Nabwana had set himself up as a one-man film studio, using locals as actors and fashioning props from whatever he found — car parts, kitchen utensils, chunks of wood. Special effects, such as explosions, are generated on scavenged computers that Nabwana found and rebuilt himself.
The results can be chaotic, to say the least — especially when coupled with running audio commentary by a “video joker,” or VJ, who half explains and half mocks the action on screen.
“I thought it was kind of amazing,” says Ron Magliozzi, film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who first encountered Nabwana’s work after meeting Hofmanis through a colleague. “These films make 'Mystery Science Theater' look like a PBS documentary.”
In June, the American Genre Film Archive, known as AGFA — a sister company of Alamo Drafthouse, the art-house theatrical chain — will release a Blu-ray/DVD set of Nabwana’s “Who Killed Captain Alex?” and “Bad Black.” Joe Ziemba, director of AGFA, says the discs will be packed with extras, from featurettes to mini-docs to audio commentary, all of it curated by Hofmanis.
“Alan is like the tank going into battle,” Ziemba says. “The films are Isaac’s vision, but Alan makes sure everything happens.”
Hofmanis says his main goal for Nabwana is simply exposure. “I don’t think it’s right that people know James Cameron but they don’t know him,” he says. “I just want people to have the opportunity to see his movies.”