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Thomas Pink meets Christopher Sharp

The businessman-turned-documentary filmmaker has been nominated for an Oscar for his directorial debut, a fearless account of the life of Ugandan politician, Bobi Wine. Wearing Thomas Pink to the glittering awards ceremony this weekend, we caught up with Chris to talk about the perilous journey of bringing Bobi’s story to the big screen – and the importance of red carpet style.

His admittedly very memorable moniker may not be familiar to the average Westerner, but Bobi Wine is a name that should be on everyone’s lips this awards season. The charismatic pop-star-turned- politician and his wife, the equally fabulously named Barbie, are the focus of the critically lauded documentary, Bobi Wine: The People’s President. This raw and unflinching documentary explores Bobi’s political ambitions and run for presidency as he faces the autocratic regime of General Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. Over the course of five years, directors Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo were given unprecedented access to the couple as they endured military detention, intimidation, torture and house arrest – with Bwayo himself shot and imprisoned. The (literal) blood, sweat and tears that went into making the film have paid dividends. Not only was it released to widespread acclaim following its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in 2022, but it was Bafta nominated and received a surprise Oscar nod for Best Documentary this year. Perhaps more importantly, the film has been a huge hit in Uganda, especially among the social media-savvy youth (Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with the most recent census reporting people under 30 making up 78 per cent).

So, as the world prepares to watch cinematic royalty descend upon Los Angeles this weekend, Chris, Moses, Bobi and Barbie will be making their mark on the red carpet – and making history.

TP: What inspired you to explore the story of Bobi Wine?

CS: I grew up in Uganda, as did my father, so I had a strong connection to the country and an understanding of its political landscape. Uganda is an autocracy, poorly pretending to be a democracy. When I met Bobi and his wife Barbie in 2017, I was impressed by their vision for the country and their bravery. They had a perfect life with four beautiful children and were prepared to jeopardise everything to go up against a ruthless adversary. General Museveni, the president of Uganda, had been in power for 32 years at that point. Bobi was a successful musician and Barbie ran an impactful charity. Their lives felt like a film script. They were elegant, charming and prepared to give us access to their lives. It felt like a privilege to follow them.

How long did it take to make the film and what kind of challenges did you face?

We filmed for five years and edited for two. The filming was perilous! Journalists and filmmakers are considered enemies of the state. Moses, my co-director, was shot in the face and imprisoned for a short period. Everyone around Bobi is in danger. When he ran to be president his whole team was held in military detention for five months. Because of the risks Bobi and his team were prepared to take, it made everyone else feel empowered. We also knew the importance of the story and understood that, as a message, it had wider significance than just Uganda. It’s a story about the fragility of democracy and the dangers we all face. It couldn’t be more relevant in a year where there are so many elections that could have detrimental results for our personal liberty. We live in a free world in the West because of those who have made sacrifices in the past.

This is your directorial debut. What is your professional background?

I started as an editor doing commercials, music videos and documentaries. I then built a business, with my wife, Suzanne, called The Rug Company. I’ve got an appreciation of the power of storytelling. Human beings respond best to messages narrated as stories. It holds our attention.

What are you hoping viewers will take away from the film?

I hope they don’t buy into the useful narrative that Western governments cling to; that Uganda is a democracy. I hope that the African continent is emboldened by Bobi and Barbie. In Bobi, Africa has the most significant politician since Mandela. We need to never allow our institutions to become tools for despots rather than services for the people.

Congratulations on your Oscar nomination. How does it feel to have this kind of recognition?

It feels extraordinary. Obviously when one starts a project like this, one never imagines such a result. This has never felt like purely a film project, so the platform it has given those fighting for a better, fairer world has been incredible.

What will you be wearing to the ceremony?

I’ll go very classic black tie and will be wearing my favourite Thomas Pink black tie shirt. Bobi and Barbie will also be there, and they will be the ones going for the “wow” factor. Bobi is a rock star and Barbie a very glamorous, beautiful woman. They are both being dressed by Ugandan tailors, which is a way of supporting the people back home. Generally I like to dress in very well made, comfortable clothes. Jackets and shoes are a good place to spend money.

What projects do you have lined up?

I’m going to focus on documenting Bobi’s continuing struggle for freedom. Watch out for Bobi Wine: The President!

Stream Bobi Wine: The People’s President on Hulu and Disney+