Osbomb, Love and Supershop: Performing Sustainable Worlds

Community film screening in Jinja

By Katie McQuaid, INTERSECTION Uganda Research Fellow

On a Saturday August afternoon, 62 people settled into plastic chairs and focused on the film playing across the back wall of the community centre. With shutters closed against the bright sunshine and later thunder and driving rain, there was hushed concentration in the assembled audience. This intergenerational community of men and women from the working-class neighbourhood of Walukuba in Jinja were gathered to watch the Ugandan premiere of 'Osbomb, Love and Supershop: Performing Sustainable Worlds'; a film produced by Gravel and Sugar Productions of INTERSECTION’s theatre work in Jinja, Nanjing and Sheffield. We were joined by many of the original participants of the community performance event portrayed in the film, their appearance on camera inciting excited gesturing, whoops and cheers. The community event in June 2015 – comprising of eight pieces of promenade theatre performed across the football pitch to over 400 community members in the heart of Walukuba – lent its name to the community based organization (CBO) formed by our participants out of this work: ‘We are Walukuba’ (WAW). This was the culmination of, and mine and Jane’s final trip to visit, INTERSECTION’s Ugandan theatre work, an engagement with this community that has spanned a colourful 18 months and taken in five performance events (from rapping about swamp degradation, a comedic exploration of corruption in land ownership, to promoting environmental responsibility using the medium of giant animal masks), the founding of a community-based organisaton and the creation of an intergenerational women’s alternative fuel co-operative.

The audience at the Jinja screening of Osbomb, Love and Supershop

Members of WAW – old and new – now sat enraptured by scenes of the theatre work and cities in all three nations. Welcomed warmly by members delighted at an international visitor, Intersection China Research Associate Chen Liu spoke at the beginning about Nanjing; introducing the city, outlining the theatre workshops and performance, and the key intergenerational and environmental concerns participants raised. 'Osbomb, Love and Supershop' then brought to life a complex story, documenting the delights, tensions and fun unfolding across three generations as they worked creatively independently and then together in three different countries. We watched strangers come together across generational divides to share and express ideas as they developed and later performed their creative take on issues sparked by discussions of environmental, consumption and intergenerational concerns.

Our screening ended with rapturous applause before the audience broke away into six groups to animatedly discuss what they had seen. A mix of young and old stood to present their responses to the film, varyingly inviting laughter, applause and serious reflection. Nearly all lauded the power of creative work in bringing people together across social divides, with several participants spontaneously standing to share their testimonies of what this intergenerational practice had meant to them in Walukuba. Both old and young repeatedly emphasized the critical and ongoing need for intergenerational solidarity in tackling local – and now demonstrably international – social and environmental issues. People were shocked at the lack of green space in the urban environments presented in Nanjing and Sheffield and spoke with pride of the green environment portrayed in Jinja. Perhaps, suggested one participant, WAW ought to raise funds to encourage tree-planting in these other cities!

Our audience were fascinated by seeing the concerns of people in Nanjing and Sheffield, recognizing their own experiences in the scenes of an oppressive British political leader being combatted by a group of ordinary people, and concerns about environmental pollution in China. A scene with Chinese shadow puppets went down a storm with many entreating our China Research Associate to return immediately to train WAW. The ‘Supershop’ scene provoked a mixture of excitement and fear, with concerns about how shopping could kill. The inequality of performance space was of key concern, with groups remarking on the significant difference between facilities available to British and Chinese participants in both rehearsals and performances, and the open-air compound in which we had worked and performed.

We Are Walukuba group photo August 2016

Perhaps most poignant for me was a final encounter the following afternoon. Sheltering from another storm a group of women waited for me under a narrow ledge, huddled in blankets against the wind and rain. They had called me to Walukuba to thank us for coming back and bringing the film. It is all too common for researchers and practitioners to quickly disappear from participants’ lives, yet here we had come to share with them our film, a copy of which they each took away. They were keen to impress on me the personal impact of watching it. It had, they said, given them strength to continue to build their work, reinforcing for each of them the importance of unity and coming together across the community. Moreover they were now known in these far off places by people who may never meet them, but at least would know that in Walukuba there was a group of men and women working together to help their communities.