Once Upon a Time in Uganda (2023)

Once Upon a Time in Uganda (2023)

A heartwarming and infectiously joyous ode to the scrappy filmmaking spirit of Wakaliwood



Uganda, United States of America
Documentary, Drama
Nabwana IGG
94 min


Be sure to make time to queue up Wakaliwood classic, Who Killed Captain Alex?, after this.

What it's about

Self-taught Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana and American publicist Alan Hofmanis team up to give the former’s riotous action comedies the worldwide audience they deserve.

The take

If you were on the Internet around 2015, you might be familiar with the viral phenomenon that is Wakaliwood, a “slum” neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda from where self-taught director Isaac Nabwana churns out bombastic DIY action comedies. Though they rack up online views in the millions, Isaac’s low-budget films weren’t money-makers due to a lack of proper distribution — something Alan Hofmanis, a Wakaliwood superfan and well-meaning New York-based publicist, wanted to help change.

Once Upon a Time chronicles the ups and somewhat perplexing downs of Isaac and Alan’s partnership, but their murky beef doesn’t detract too much from the documentary’s greatest strength, which is its showcasing of the scrappy spirit shared by Isaac and his volunteer collaborators: the actors who gleefully throw themselves in the mud for him, the “voice jokers” who provide riotous live narration at his screenings, and the props man who can jerry-rig just about anything his scripts call for. As Isaac points out, filmmaking is a business in the rest of the world — in Wakaliwood, it’s a passion. If Once Upon a Time does one thing, it’s faithfully transmit Isaac’s pure love for the craft — and, in doing so, reinvigorate us with the infectious joy that animates all of his movies.

What stands out

Once Upon a Time charts the journey of fits and starts that took Isaac’s movies from viral hits to real-life film festival sensations. As Isaac explains, Wakaliwood has faced a multitude of challenges on its way up, from unreliable electricity sources to a lack of funding and respect from Uganda’s movers and shakers. All of these difficulties only make the documentary’s penultimate scene all the sweeter: we watch as Isaac attends a Toronto International Film Festival screening of a Wakaliwood movie, where a raucous audience makes their appreciation of his work abundantly clear. The moment puts happy tears in Isaac’s eyes, and it’s hard not to have the same reaction, too.


Add a comment

What did you think? Who should watch it?




The Black Book (2023)

A Nigerian revenge thriller seeking justice against corrupt institutions


The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

A star-studded and riveting legal drama with a blockbuster feel.


The Guilty (2018)

A minimalist, razor-sharp thriller that will have you gasping for air.


Smoke (1995)

A gorgeous indie gem whose every note is worth inhaling


System Crasher (2019)

A tale of trauma and one of the most talked about movies on Netflix in 2020.


Hail Satan? (2019)

Forget everything you think you know about the Satanic Temple


A Silent Voice (2016)

A coming-of-age movie that circles around friendship and the atonement of a boy


Gandeevadhari Arjuna (2023)

A stylish Telugu bodyguard thriller with great action but strange pacing


Cold War (2018)

A quiet Polish masterpiece with ravishing music and dazzling visuals


Wind River (2017)

Sicario's screenwriter directs this story of murder in an Indigenous reserve


Curated by humans, not algorithms.

agmtw logo

© 2023 agoodmovietowatch, all rights reserved.