A small, lopsided and subtitled, dose of familiarity

Posted: November 5, 2007 in Blog

Within days of arriving here, I was out for drinks with new friends who were saying goodbye to a couple who were soon leaving the country.

The departing couple mentioned that they were leaving behind a collection of DVDs that included movies and episodes of various shows. Others in the group were immediately excited about the new movies and shows now available to watch.

“Oh come on, what’s the big deal?” I asked. It’s just a few movies and shows, right?

They all looked at me, amused. “Give it time, you’ll understand,” one of them said.

I think I’m beginning to understand.

At our house sits a growing collection of DVDs bought at the nearby market. Most people who stay at the house buy one or two during their stay, and leave them behind for those coming next.

And these aren’t old, B-List movies you’ve never heard of. No, these ones are hot off the presses, er, reels.

The Bourne Ultimatum, which came out recently? It was available in a small hut at the nearby market as soon as it was released in theatres. Sure the movie was filmed using a camcorder in the cinema (meaning you sometimes have to put up with a cameraman who has a skewed sense of ‘steady hand’), and sure, parts of the screen are periodically blocked by the shadowy figures of people leaving their seats to get popcorn, and yes, you can hear people laughing or crying in nearby seats. But you can at least see the movie, right?


And so you can wander down to the market and browse the various stalls that sell movies. Each disc typically has six or seven movies on it, organized in some sort of theme (my favourite theme so far is the “Mel Gibson vs. Bruce Willis” movie collection), and sold for about $4.  Yesterday I took a friend visiting from Rwanda into the market to check out the movies (because they aren’t available in Rwanda). He found one collection he liked and asked the vendor to play it to ensure the movies actually work.

She put it in, turned the volume down conspicuously, and pressed play. The movies played fine but the title screen said French Movie Collection.

“Madam, why does this say ‘French’?”

“That’s just the name of the collection. The movies are in English.”

“Could you please turn the volume up so we can hear for ourselves?”

*Woman turns volume up. Dialogue is clearly in French*

“That movie is in French.”

“It’s only this one. The rest are in English.”

*We ask her to play some of the others, all of which are in French*

And so on. Besides being a great way for ex-pats to stay plugged-in to the latest releases, these movies also allow many Ugandans to watch movies they could not otherwise afford. They are available for sale in nearly every market, and there are also small, ramshackle, cinemas that show these pirated DVDs on TVs, to an audience of Ugandans who paid a small admission price.

Of the movies in our house, some of them work, others do not. It recently took me four tries to watch The Pursuit of Happyness from start to finish.

Poor camera-work, malfunctioning discs and hilariously skewed subtitles would normally be a major pain, but here it’s a small price to pay for a dose of familiar pop culture.

  1. Sean says:

    I suppose the next thing that’ll happen will be the motion picture companies sueing the hut vendors selling bootlegs?

    Just imagine if they’d been selling Metallica bootlegs! Lars would be denoucing the entire country.

    Oh… gotta go… “The Bourne Ultimatum” just finished downloading off the ‘net..

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