Home Arts Crises and thievery in Ugandan-style neo-realist film

Crises and thievery in Ugandan-style neo-realist film

by Kalvin Hartwig September 29, 2015
Crises and thievery in Ugandan-style neo-realist film

Ugandan-set The Boda Boda Thieves follows a boy who gets in with the wrong crowd

Directors Donald Mugisha and James Tayler bring you a taste of the challenges of living in Uganda with their film The Boda Boda Thieves. Follow Abel, a 15-year-old boy who isn’t known to work hard but attempts to prove himself and break into adulthood when a crisis hits his family.

The film stars Hassan “Spike” Insingoma as Abel. Photo still taken from The Boda Boda Thieves.

The film stars Hassan “Spike” Insingoma as Abel. Photo still taken from The Boda Boda Thieves.

There are two things one should know going into the film: one, a small motorcycle used as a taxi is called a “boda boda” in Uganda, and two, for much of the population, every day is a real struggle to make ends meet.

At the beginning of the film, we see that instead of searching for work that would help his struggling family get by, Abel enjoys hanging out with friends and gambling with his mother’s money—money meant to cover his transportation costs. Abel’s family is far from rich. His father is a boda boda driver, and his mother works at the quarry breaking small rocks with a hammer. Abel’s father is given one last chance by a wealthy lender to pay back a loan for his boda boda, or else he will risk getting arrested or losing it. So when the father is injured in an accident and can no longer earn money from driving, the family faces a real crisis. Abel offers to be a driver to finally prove himself.

After facing a day of tough challenges, Abel decides to take a shortcut from hard work and teams up with a thief who promises easy money and fun times in exchange for Abel being his driver. This is one of a series of mistakes made by Abel, and he ends up losing the boda boda. The film then exits a linear approach and we must wait to learn how Abel lost his motorcycle in the first place.

Abel on the boda boda that the plot is centred around. Photo still taken from The Boda Boda Thieves.

Abel on the boda boda that the plot is centred around. Photo still taken from The Boda Boda Thieves.

The film is entertaining and also introduces the audience to the challenges of living in urban Uganda. The non-linear approach to the storyline provides some extra tension, but the acting isn’t very strong across the board, and leaves the viewer wanting more. Some shots use the shaky camera technique but it isn’t done to a head-spinning degree. There are several artsy camera angle shots of the protagonist, but it was somewhat disappointing not to see beautiful images of the landscape near the capital city of Kampala, which really can be breathtaking. It was also disappointing not to see more of the strong anti-thievery culture that I witnessed while visiting that country last year. For example, if one was to yell “thief!” while chasing someone through the streets, that person being chased would likely get stopped by passers-by. Perhaps the directors felt these things would distract from the darker mood of the film.

The film is only 85 minutes long, so despite the not exceptionally strong acting from some of the cast and the occasional minor error in the English subtitles, you might want to watch it—if not for sheer Oscar-winning entertainment, at least for a perspective of life as an individual who is trying to get by in urban Uganda, one we don’t hear about much in Canada.

The Boda Boda Thieves is being shown as part of the Montreal International Black Film Festival. You can catch it on Oct. 4 at Cinéplex Quartier Latin at 3 p.m.

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