The Female boxers of Kampala
Katanga is the name given to one of the largest slums in the city of Kampala. The film (based on the same name) is the retelling of the true story of Hellen Baleke, a young woman living in Katanga who turned to her local boxing gym after being assaulted and nearly raped in her own neighbourhood. She went on to become the first female boxer in all of Uganda to compete professionally on an international level. Now Hellen and her group of female boxers act as vigilante protectors in Katanga, taking revenge on assaults in the slum when the police are too afraid to intervene.
I had read about Hellen’s story in a few publications nearly a year prior to us arriving to Uganda. On February, 2018, with 32 rolls film and 600ft of 16mm, myself and two other filmmakers had found ourselves in Kampala with about two weeks to establish ties, and determine how we wanted to tell her story.
Our 16mm camera continuously malfunctioned in the environment as we ducked into peoples houses to clear jams and change rolls, trying hard to keep our equipment free from light, dust, and sweat while also doing our best to stay safe despite the physical dangers of the slum. For this project we put our faith into a 1970s Russian crank camera, and Katanga is the result of this analog process.
02.26.2018 - Katanga slum production day 3 - Finally finding our feet on this project. Working with non-actors in Katanga has had it’s challenges. Between changing film in darkness throughout takes with sweaty hands, counting our film stock down by the foot, to sticking out like sore thumbs to the locals with minimal security, this film has had its ups and downs.
02.27.2018 “First rule of fight club" A year ago, this was just an idea on paper, but tonight we find ourselves in the depths of an underground boxing match in the centre of a major Kampala slum. Punches are thrown within the ring surrounded by a mass crowd. It’s so loud we can’t hear one another, the smell of sweat from the crowd and fighters persists. It feels like a dream, something so surreal and while the three of us try to capture this event on our cameras, I can’t help but think that the crowd is getting increasingly energized and we’re between them and the only exit. Our only protection is Hellen and her group of 6-7 female fighters, 2 of which are currently fighting each other in the ring. I pushed this thought aside as the fights continue, switching between 35mm stills and 16mm motion film.
Hellen and the boxers tell us we cannot film after 6pm anymore, it’s too dangerous. Last night we were almost unknowingly robbed. People in Katanga are now on the lookout for mzungu’s with cameras. “We must talk to coach, and we get more boxers, more protection”