Who Killed Captain Alex? was made by the ebullient Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana in 2010. It was filmed in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The film is an outrageous riot of gunfire and fisticuffs. Fifteen minutes into this completely disorienting mess, the narrator provides a helpful announcement to what can only be a bewildered audience: “You are watching Who Killed Captain Alex? and the first VJ in English ever from Wakaliwood. This is how we enjoy movies in Uganda. And now Captain Alex: The Musical.” This statement is far from clarifying, but it at least extends a helpful hand in trying to explain what is flashing in front of you. Whatever it is, it looks like everyone involved is having the time of their lives.
Emmie, the narrator, has a completely novel relationship to the film. The film has a conventional soundtrack with dialogue, sound effects, and music, but Emmie’s voice is dubbed in after, on top of the whole thing. His nonstop commentary serves many different functions. Sometimes, he describes what is on screen, e.g. when a group of camo-clad gunslingers burst onto the screen, Emmie yells with great enthusiasm, “Tough commandos on a mission!” Later, he is so overcome with excitement he just yells, “Movie! Movie! Movie! Movie!”
Emmie calls himself a “VJ”, which I am assuming is a throwback to the 1980s when the hosts of a nascent MTV referred to themselves as “video jockeys.” Emmie’s ecstatic enthusiasm is contagious. He often sounds like a Mexican futbol announcer shouting color commentary at the screen.
This is not Emmie’s sole function. He also provides a kind of assistance to the movie as a whole. He yells out things like, “Action is coming. I promise you!”, or, “ Wow! This music is good!”, or my favorite, “Expect the unexpectable!” He also strays into a hip-hop sort of thing with comments like, “This is VJ Emmie on the microphone!”
There is also a sense of having to “represent.” Every morning before production starts, Nabwana and his crew sing a special anthem they wrote about their home and their company, both affectionately referred to as Wakaliwood. Wakaliwood is a combination of the word Hollywood and the part of the city where Nabwana lives and works, Wakaliga, in Kampala.
Emmie’s ranting is also very pro-Uganda. When Emmie introduces a new character called “Supa Kung Fu Master”, Emmie explains that the Supa Kung Fu Master was trained at the Ugandan Shaolin Temple. Emmie further notes that the master is a Ugandan Bruce Lee and is called Bruce U. When Bruce U spends the night sleeping in a tree, Emmie calls it “Hotel Kampala.”
Often, Emmie says the character's lines for them, and sometimes he conveys what they are thinking, or even what we should be thinking. In one scene, he reminds us, “Remember, she is here to kidnap Alex.”
Emmie also functions like the hosts of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Emmie makes fun of what is happening on screen. He makes fart noises, he laughs, he dubs over a woman being tortured so that she appears to yell out, “I will never watch Nollywood again!” (a reference to Wakaliwood’s competitor in Nigeria.)
It may be difficult to believe, but Who Killed Captain Alex? had a budget of 200 dollars. In fact, Nabwana has made over 40 films, each with a similar budget. The actors are unpaid friends and family. There is actually a continuous worldwide casting call. Anyone who wants to be in a film can just show up in Wakaliwood, and you will be given a role. All of the props, dollies, tripods, equipment, and even the computer on which the films are edited, are cobbled together from scratch.
I’m guessing Nabwana saved money by not worrying too much about shooting permits or craft tables. When you have a tiny budget, you have to be creative. In one scene, a commando explains to his soldiers that when they attack the mafia base, it is going to look like an old school. You have to work with what you’ve got. If all you have is an old school, then just ask the audience to use their imaginations. It all functions as a grand democratizing invitation to DIY your own film.
It is also unlikely that Nabwana was able to pay Warner Music for Kiss From A Rose by Seal, which is played on a synthesizer throughout the film, providing a soothing, melodic accompaniment to all the blood splatters and explosions.
Nabwana does everything. He writes the films, he is the director and the cameraman. He edits the films and builds whatever needs to be built. If there ever was a true auteur, it's Nabwana. He even manages to include CGI of helicopters and exploding buildings. For some reason, the beginning of the film starts with a sort of gag reel where a helicopter drops two soldiers off in Times Square and they proceed to blow up Katz’s Delicatessen. This unforgivable act of pastrami-related terrorism has no connection to the rest of the film, never mind that Katz’s is miles away from Time Square.
The movie has a storyline, and if I were to watch it a few more times, I might decipher it. It's basically about a war between government commandos and thugs from the Tiger Mafia. Captain Alex is killed during a botched kidnapping attempt. Captain Alex is lured in by a prostitute who promises to ”beat his rat”, and then something goes wrong and Captain Alex apparently gets killed off-screen. More stuff happens, mostly shooting guns and flailing imitations of kung fu, and then the movie suddenly ends. I don’t understand what I saw, but I was sad to see it go.
You can say that Who Killed Captain Alex? is so bad it's good, or that it is purposely ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. However you want to label it, it's a joy to watch. It is a unique cinematic experience you will not get from any other movie.
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