The Boda Boda Thieves, a film project by producers James Tayler and Wanjiku Sarah Muhoho with director Donald Mugisha, has turned heads at the Berlin International Film Festival’s Talent Campus.
The film project, which will go into production in the coming months, won the Highlight Pitch Award at the festival’s Talent Project Market. Additionally, the film received special mention for the International Relations ARTE Prize for excellence in script writing.
The recognition is only the most recent in a string of various accolades and funding commitments for the film; South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation, the World Cinema Fund, the Hubert Bals Fund, and the Global Film Initiative have all given the film significant funding, and the film project has won accolades at Durban FilmMart and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam.
When Goodman stakes his last source of livelihood and his reputation with his old friend, Bujagali, to get a job for his son Abel as driver of a motorbike taxi or “Boda-Boda”, he feels like things are maybe finally going his way, that is, until a gang of thieves robs Abel of the treasured motorbike. We follow Goodman and his son Abel on their quest through the city to find their “Boda Boda” and in the process gain an insider’s view of urban Africa, its underworld and the generation gap between urban migrants and their first generation children.
The film is freely inspired by and is an African homage to the classic Italian neo-realist film “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) by Vittorio De Sica.
The international collaboration between the producers and director (Muhoho is Kenyan, Tayler is South African, and Mugisha is Ugandan) has won accolades for ‘distinctive and innovative’ African storyline. The film they have set out to make is seen by many as a pioneering effort, defining itself against other archetypes of African Cinema.
In an interview at the Festival Cine Africano de Tarifa, Tayler commented that the film “is about bridging the gap between these so called ‘embassy films,’ which get shown at the embassy during festivals, and the films that are relayed to the public and are popular. I doesn’t need to be either/or – there’s really a market that people are hungry for – a thinking person’s film.”
“Nollywood usually includes very stereotyped characters, with very melodramatic acting. We like to think about films from a more socio-realistic perspective, with more subtle stories,” said Tayler.
That charter comes with its own challenges. “On top of pioneering a different genre of films, we’re also working on pioneering a different distribution model,” said Mugisha in the same interview.
Mugisha and Tayler are founding members of Yes! That’s UsFilm Collective, in which Muhoho is also involved.
“We hope to bring to life a great African story and also be part of impacting the local industry by sharing our skills as a collective from different countries and by sharing our vibrant and unique narrative voice,” said Muhoho.
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 ‘Boda boda,’ meaning motorbike, is a derivation from the English ‘border to border,’ when bicycles, and later, motorbikes, were used to transport people across the no man’s land of the Kenya-Uganda border.