'Bergman in Uganda': Ugandan Veejays, Swedish Pirates, And The Political Value of Live Adaptation

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In early May 2014, the Swedish artist Markus Öhrn premiered the first part of his project ‘Bergman in Uganda’ at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, Belgium. The premiere involved a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s signature film Persona (1966), interpreted by a Ugandan ’veejay’ who goes by the name of Veejay HD. On two adjacent screens, Öhm presented viewers with Bergman’s film and Veejay HD’s face, as he translated the film into Luganda for Ugandan audiences, with Veejay HD’s words, in turn, translated into English subtitles. The festival blurb describes veejays as ‘a new kind of folk storyteller … people who work in makeshift cinema halls in slums and remote villages’ and who translate foreign films (mostly Hollywood blockbusters) for Ugandan audiences (Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 2014). It explains Öhrn’s motivation for initiating the ‘Bergman in Uganda’ project as one invested with irony, as a way of allowing ‘the European spectator to see how the African viewer looks at him’ and as a ‘confusing reversal that induces us to reflect on our own perspective’ (Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 2014).

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... In Uganda and Tanzania typically, a type of 'events cinema' came into being with practices of spectatorship structured around the presence of the 'veejay' or 'video narrators'. Beyond the needs of African-American audiences that mainly inform the critical discussions of Bobo (1998Bobo ( ), bell hooks (1992 or Diawara (1988) for example, there are indeed other viewing practices that have become necessary; and have come into existence on account of a wider need to exercise strategies of 'adaptation' and 'appropriation' (Dovey 2015). In Who Killed Captain Alex? this veejay's presence becomes a generic convention of Wakaliwood films and a subject of interest in the study of African cinema. ...
... As Dovey (2015) suggests, responses of popular audiences in the Ugandan context may confirm that acceptable readings of depictions of 'a ridiculous display of government power' is a 'clue to people's feeling about the political atmosphere' (103). However, in the Swedish-Uganda encounter at the core of Dovey's discussion, there is a tendency to normalize the European view ('gaze'), and to evade the fact that normalized European truth claims are also in the frame for contestation. ...
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