Bad Black

Bad Black ★★★★

#19 on my Top 50 for 2016:

Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria) runs a team of criminals in the slums of Kampala. She schemes to bring down the rich man Hirigi (Bisaso Dauda) and steals dog tags belonging to American Doctor Ssali (Alan Hofmanis). Ssali’s kindergarten-aged assistant — named, hand to God, Wesley Snipes — trains him to become a badass to get his dog tags back. But what is the real story behind Bad Black? Why is she so intent on bringing down Hirigi? And how many people is Dr. Ssali willing to kill to get his dog tags back? Bad Black is the latest import from Ugandan production company Ramon Film Productions, the same people who made Who Killed Captain Alex? a few years ago. Alan Hofmanis moved from New York to Uganda to help with the production and distribution of the movies, and has been enlisted as “America’s best action star.”

Ramon Film Productions is an example of a hyperlocal cinema, made by (and basically for) the people who live in one particular neighborhood of their home city of Kampala. That area is called Wakaliga, and they have named their industry “Wakaliwood” in its honor. Shot on cheap digital video and using an impressive array of handmade props, Bad Black would be hugely fun even if it wasn’t for the appearance of VJ (“Video Joker”) Emmie providing a running commentary on the action: for example, when Ssali guns down a couple of guards, Emmie shouts “Worst doctor ever!” This kind of thing is best seen with an audience, and seeing this labor of love with a game crowd at Fantastic Fest was an amazing experience. Hofmanis even brought along a machine gun prop built for the movie out of old car parts and the audience passed it around during the post-screening Q&A, which was a highlight of the fest. Wakaliwood’s pure love of movies is infectious and irresistible, making Bad Black one of the most weirdly joyful moviegoing experiences of the year.