I somehow have reached the end of 2023, and it’s been a year that I don’t even know how to describe. It tested my capabilities as an artist and entrepreneur, and I hated it that artists work in a capitalist system in order to survive. I longed for the long lost days when I was only an artist without a company weighing me down. Then, I would do one job and earn enough to live by for so many months, without having to worry about the other people who depend on me for a livelihood, without stressing over tax and huge bureaucratic bills that are necessary to keep the company active. I guess I’ve been sucked into the capitalistic whirlwind of ‘growth’ and I have become a slave to my own company, and it sort of sucks.
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In many ways, 2023 is a repeat of 2013. Back then, I had just shaken off the last shackles of salaried employment and was determined to live by my stories. I knew it was impossible to earn as an individual, so I started Dilstories in 2011, and you see, I named the company as Dilman’s Stories because I wanted to earn from my daydreams. 2012 was a tumultuous year which saw me rapidly eat through my savings. I got a grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, of about £8,000, to make a short film. It should have kept me afloat for a while. But they pulled the plug in the last minute, after I had spent all my money on a camera and other equipment in order to pull off the job. Leaving me penniless.
You see, they gave an organization, B3Media, to run the program. To train us, mentor us, or something like that. I didn’t mind that and I looked forward to learn from them. Only that they were a toxic mentor with a kind of colonial mentality where they assume they know everything since they are in the UK, and me in Uganda needed to dumbly follow whatever they said. One argument was over the cast. The film was set in a high school, with an all teenage cast, so I had to use non-actors, but they thought there were professional teenage actors in Uganda and I was just incompetent not to find them. So they took their money away and gave it to someone else, who did a worse job than I would have. The script was horrible, the sound and picture poor quality. The acting was effing annoying. But they are UK people so I’m sure they are proud of their decision, even if they screwed up 2013 for me. For a long period, my bank account read zero.
Ten years later, I found myself struggling in the wake of another toxic client, who took nearly a whole year to pay yet I had sunk all my money into making sure their project ran on time. I was not only broke, but indebted, to people who relied on me for a salary, to other companies whose services I use and have to pay for regularly, to the taxman (who kept slapping me with heavy bills that I had to pay!) At least in 2013 I had only myself to worry about. Banks refused to advance me loans, because I did not have a running contract, though I had security. I spent a lot of money on bureaucracy trying to get loans and it was so depressing. You can’t imagine the stress I endured.
I survived with the help of friends and strangers. Someone on mastodon gifted me $50, and I was pleasantly surprised when two people I least expected sent me cash gifts. Lisa and Aggie. Thank you! Oh, and there is Polina, always finding an excuse to help me out. She’s an angel. And my patrons, who I charged though I did not make a short film. In 2013, I got out of the mess with the help of a friend, Joan (who passed on shortly after, may she RIP.) She helped me get a World Bank contract to produce a short documentary, and in one pay check my troubles were over. I never ran broke again as Dilstories took off properly. You probably notice that most of the people I’ve mentioned here are women, and this explains why a lot of my stories have a strong female main character. Throughout my life, women have played a role in helping me survive.
In 2013, my career as a writer took off after I got shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Now, everybody took notice of me. I know, we still need Western institutions to thrive as African artists, though there are a few now on the continent that serve as launch pads. So in 2023 I was accepted into Durban Film Mart. I went to present a feature film and I thought I’d finally get a footing in the international film market. I’m still waiting for the impact of this to show, though, because I pitched a sci-fi that involves CGI butterflies and the industry players did not believe I could pull it off. (There’s still that colonial hungover, where they don’t think an artist based and living in Africa can accomplish anything without the help of a European counterpart) And then, I met up with commissioning editors in the big streamers like Netflix, who have recently come into Africa. One told me they can’t touch my sci-fi film for it was political (about a young woman who invents a device to get rid of central governments, but she has to contend with a dictator who uses gene-drive technology to stay in power) They mostly wanted ‘safe’ topics, and they all told me they are not actively looking for content from Uganda. Their focus is Nigeria and South Africa, and perhaps Kenya, and the only way I can get their attention is by making a film that makes a wave in the festivals, or goes viral, or has celebrities, or something like that. So I guess for a while I’ll focus on short films that you can support by becoming a patron on patreon or ko-fi.
Still, in spite of all this, I produced two series. One a comedy web-series, Kabi and Kalo, intended for YouTube, but which has since got a sales agent (oh, I met them in Durban and I’m expecting they will sale a few other titles of mine) so you might see it in your favourite airline entertainment if the deal goes through. The other is a thirteen-episode drama, Storm on the Floor, which is still in production. Then, I produced a feature film, Law of Consequences, which we will complete in January 2024. I also made a short film, The Metal Person. I thought I’d end the year on a high note by releasing this short film today, but my effing computer frustrated my plans. I can’t render out the CGI shots in time. On the writing side, I published yet another book, Where Rivers Go To Die, and the only short story I wrote got accepted for publication, earning me over $300. Wow. And, amidst all this, I founded a film collective to help other film makers in Uganda find their footing with much more ease than I did.
I honestly don’t know how I managed all this yet for most of the year I had no money. I guess the old saying is true, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I’m tough. I’m a survivor. I’ll live, and my stories will live long after I’m gone.
Now that you are here, I have a small favor to ask. I regularly make science fiction short films and I’m looking for your support. It’s very difficult to make it as a filmmaker in Africa, where there is virtually no market to encourage big film investments, and so any dollar you can spare will go a long way into changing things. Please pledge on patreon.com/dilstories You only pay after I make the film, and you can stop payments at anytime. For other options, like donating via mobile money or PayPal, please go here dilmandila.com/donate