Law graduate turns to filmmaking

By Agatha N Biira

The other day, I came across a tweet that said, “Age 7: I want to be a lawyer. Age 16:Mum, look! All As! Age 20: Law is hard. Age 25: Make some noise for DJ Ebenezer.” I was reminded of the dreams we had as children.

Most of us wanted to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, pilots, and even firefighters. It is only a few of us that have gone ahead to fulfill and live these dreams. Along the way, our career aspirations have changed.

Well, that is the story of Christopher Muchwa, a law graduate from Uganda Christian University (UCU) turned filmmaker. Growing up, he wanted to be a priest. “I admired the way they led their lives, and coming from a staunch Catholic family, it seemed like the right path for me,” Muchwa said. “I had hope that I would be the first African Pope.”

Being the only child, he was discouraged on grounds of the continuity of the lineage. While in school, he picked up an interest in the debate club.

In 2016, Muchwa and his teammates from Kira College Butiki represented Uganda at the Argo Open International World Debating Tournament in Romania after they had won the National Debate Championship in 2015. This paved the way for his legal career.

Muchwa then enrolled for a Bachelor of Laws at Uganda Christian University (UCU) in 2017. After his first year, he lost his mother to depression. “I thought about changing universities and even my course to one that would be cheaper, but I never went through with it,” he said.

Having been raised single-handedly by his mother, Muchwa knew that he had to find a way of raising tuition on his own. Earlier on during his S6 vacation, he had learned how to code from YouTube, a skill that came in handy after his mother’s death.

“The odds were against me. I had to perfect my skill in coding to start earning from it,” Muchwa said. “The need for tuition forced me to outsmart myself.”

His mother’s friend, now his guardian, offered to pay half of his tuition. In 2019, Muchwa built the law app, Sui Generis, for the UCU School of Law to help students access information for both undergraduate and postgraduate diplomas in legal practice. In 2020, he built the COVID Guide, an application meant to share authentic information about COVID-19 among Ugandans.

One would say technology was his “thing,” but no. Even after mastering such a skill, Muchwa still felt like something was lacking. “It was all not satisfactory,” he said. He continued to figure out where his heart was.

Jerry Drileba, Muchwa’s former classmate at UCU, says even while in law school, Muchwa was always into film. “Every time we were with him, we were his pieces. He would always record videos and take pictures of us. And on weekends, he would go to Kamuli to record films,” he said.

In 2021, Muchwa couldn’t graduate with his colleagues. “I had missing marks and a few retakes,” he said. “My guardian told me she couldn’t pay my tuition anymore since my time at the university had elapsed.”

He got a dead year so that he could get money to pay tuition for another year. During that time, he watched a movie titled “The Bad Mexican” by Loukman Ali, which marked the start of his filmmaking journey.

Watching that movie made him realize that Ugandans could do something good too. “I had trashed Ugandan movies all my life, but this movie, in particular, was too good to be Ugandan,” he said. “I didn’t even know it was Ugandan-made.”

Muchwa talking about what film is to him

Borrowing words from Martin Luther King, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. 

According to Muchwa, no one goes to school to be average. “Instead of being an average lawyer, I would rather do something else and be very good at it. And that is what I am doing,” he says.

When he had just started out, he got his first camera from Martin Mangusho, someone who was drawn to him by his love for film. “He seemed to want to explore, and the best I could offer was an environment for him to grow his skill,” Mangusho said.

He says not going to the Law Development Center (LDC) has been his greatest gift. “Much as my mother gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, I feel like her absence has made me more aggressive and realistic. Whatever I do, I have to make sure that ends meet,” he said.

For Muchwa, leaving the legal fraternity was an easy decision to make. “I needed to make money urgently. Bills needed to be paid. Simply because my mother had passed on didn’t mean I had to downsize,” he said. “I had to find a clean way of making money and maintaining the life my mother had given me.”

Asked if he would go back to being a lawyer, he says the most important thing is impressing himself. “If things fail, I am still a lawyer, but I don’t see myself failing,” he said.

He aspires to be like Loukman Ali, a Ugandan filmmaker. Just like him, Muchwa is a self-taught videographer, learning all his skills from YouTube, including coding. If he could go back in time, he says, “I wouldn’t have gone to the university if I had discovered that film was it for me earlier. I would have invested time in YouTube to learn as much as I could.”

Muchwa hopes to make his first film in 2024. Tony Musimwe, one of the people Muchwa has worked with before, says he loves to create and is always willing to learn. “The first time I called him up, he told me he had just started out, but shockingly, he had a body of work on YouTube all shot on his phone. He loves what he does,” Musimwe said.

Jimmy Siyasa, the acting head of the communications department at UCU, with whom Muchwa works, says, “He is highly creative and open-minded, which is why he can fit in whichever field he chooses apart from what he studied at the university. He is quite the testament to the fact that whatever course you take doesn’t cast a stone on how your life will turn out,” he said.

Elisha Nasasira, Muchwa’s former classmate at UCU, describes him as a very talented and innovative person. “He is the kind of person who wants to challenge the status quo. Even when he doesn’t have the resources, he will still do something extraordinary,” he said.