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Posts Tagged ‘Katwe’
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the star-studded “The Magnificent Seven,” the inspirational “Queen of Katwe,” and “Storks,” an animated film for kids.
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Imagine seeing a movie in a theatre for the first time. Now imagine the first movie you see on the big screen is the story of your life. That’s what happened to Phiona Mutesi.
“I’ve never been in a theatre,” she said at the Toronto International Film Festival the night after Queen of Katwe premiered in front of a sold out crowd of twenty-six hundred people. “This has been my first time.”
Based on the book The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster the movie tells the tale of how Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), an illiterate girl from a very poor family in Kampala, Uganda, learns to play chess and with the help of mentor Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) moves from local tournaments to the World Chess Olympiad.
“We have had video shacks for the longest time,” says director Mira Nair, a Uganda resident of almost three decades, “but until five years ago we didn’t have theatres in malls. The price of a ticket is almost ten dollars which prices it out of everyone’s reach. It is true that a kid like Phiona would not choose to spend that kind of money to go to the theatre. She’d see a pirated DVD in a shack somewhere.”
The Disney movie was shot on the streets of Kampala and features over 100 local actors, many of whom, Nair points out, had never seen a camera before.
“I actually took a bunch of the kids to see Jurassic World while we were doing the film,” says star David Oyelowo, “and Madina [Nalwanga] who plays Phiona was sat next to me and was clutching me the whole time, terrified by the movie. She turned to me and said, ‘Is this what we are doing?’ I asked her if she had ever seen a film before and she said no. We were halfway through shooting a film in which she is playing the lead.”
Oyelowo, a Golden Globe nominee for his work playing Martin Luther King in Selma, says working with the young, inexperienced actors was a “was a wonderful thing for the film.”
“Because the kids in this film were not necessarily connecting what we were doing in shooting the film with what they had seen before, because they hadn’t seen a movie in a movie theatre before, it meant there was something really unaffected, something really free, something genuine about their performances. I found I was getting a refresher course in how to be truthful in front of a camera. Inevitably after you have done a few movies you start adopting a house style. You start knowing too much in a sense. Even though it is kind of a mind-blowing thing that they haven’t seen a movie, because we in the west take it very much for granted, it actually lends a very specific quality to the film itself.”
Nair, whose Ugandan film school Maisha Film Lab is taking a thousand school kids to the theatres to see the movie, says Queen of Katwe is “really a portrait of ourselves. It’s going to make a sea change in terms of people realizing that we matter, that our stories can put bums on seats.”
Based on the book “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” the story picks up steam when Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), an illiterate girl from a very poor family, meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), at a Sports Ministry Out Reach. The young teacher sees something special in Phiona and her uncanny ability with chess. Soon she is beating the other children at the outreach. “What I’m seeing cannot be true!” says one young boy amazed he’s being beaten by a girl. Another more experienced player accuses her of reading his mind. Katende soon figures out that she is able to see eight moves ahead, annihilating almost everyone who sits opposite her.
Soon, against the wishes of her mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), who, at first, doesn’t see a future in playing a game when the family desperately needs her to work in the market to put food on the table. From local tournaments to World Chess Olympiads, Phiona’s skill becomes her family’s ticket to a better life. “Sometimes the place you’re used to,” Katende tells her, “is not the place you belong.”
“Queen of Katwe” is a story that finds inspiration in a place where there is little hope. Nair vibrantly bring life in Kampala to life. Grinding poverty is on display but so is the indomitable spirit that allows people to survive in diminished living circumstances. “Challenges are not a curse,” the Outreach slogan, is glimpsed only briefly but is the overriding theme of this message-laden movie.
Chess is used as a metaphor throughout. “In chess the small one [the pawn] can become the big one [the queen] that’s why I like it,” says one of Phiona’s early teachers. “Do not be quick to tip your king,” says Katende. In other words never give up. These are about as subtle as a shovel to the forehead but while the film’s messages are syrupy sweet the universal truths are solid. It’s not just about winning or losing in Phiona’s world, it’s about representing her country and bettering her family’s life. These are potent ideas even if they are a little saccharine.
Aided by an appealing cast—although the accents might be a challenge from time to tome—Nair rings every ounce of emotion from the inspirational story.
Richard sits with Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende, the real life inspirations for the new Disney film “Queen of Katwe.”
Watch the whole thing HERE!