OLI OTYA? Life and Loss in Rural Uganda

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Completed


Oliotya? is the story of Ugandan nurses and US doctors working together to bring palliative or comfort care to a rural area of Uganda.


In rural Uganda, people suffering from life threatening illnesses rarely make their way to the hospital, limited by their fear of Western medicine and their belief in traditional healing. A team of Ugandan nurses and US doctors travels to the villages to provide comfort care and essential pain relief.


My approach to this project evolved over the two summers I spent in Naggalama. I arrived in July 2016 prepared to focus on the work of  Drs. Randi Diamond and Howard Eison, a husband and wife team of palliative care physicians from New York. As I walked around the hospital grounds that first day, I saw that the world of the hospital- patients arriving, families pumping water to wash bed linens, the nurses and staff-- were main characters as well, and it was this world that I wanted to convey in my film. As a journalist I was used to conducting interviews and choosing images to advance the story. In rural Uganda, I became a participant observer- adjusting to the unhurried pace of life, simply “going with the flow.” The film reflects this immersive approach- scenes are never interrupted by on-camera interviews although much of the audio comes from those sessions. Oli Otya? is told through the voices of the people we meet, without narration. The story unfolds in English and Luganda. Introductory text screens set up the story. By the second trip, I knew that I wanted to show even more of the Ugandan culture and to explore the world of traditional healers. To do this, I traveled with my Ugandan crew to a healer and a bone setter, to the local market and lingered with families in the village huts after the medical team packed up and left for the day. The crew became my cultural guide, and as Luganda speakers, the families we filmed welcomed them. While in Uganda I heard the music of Samite, a Ugandan refugee now living in upstate New York. Samite is recognized internationally for his indigenous compositions and as the founder of Musicians for World Harmony which promotes music as a means of healing. Samite is composing the original score for the documentary. The footage was shot primarily in 4K with available light to capture the richness of the African landscape. The camera lingers on the dimly illuminated huts of the families, the faces of the children who gather around us, the animals, the fields and the brilliant evening light. With this backdrop, we intercut patient stories with scenes of daily life and the life of the hospital. Moments of sadness when patients receive bad news are juxtaposed with more uplifting moments-Asiya who was bedridden takes her first steps with a walker, Fatuma gives a chicken to the team to thank them for their visit, children play circle games outside the staff quarters of the hospital. I want to show that despite the fragility of life, there are moments to savor.


Lucy Bruell - Director/ Producer

Lucy Bruell, Producer/Director directed “Speaking with Music,” “Beyond the Practice Room,” and “On A Personal Note,” feature documentaries on young classical pianists that were distributed by American Public Television and NETA. “On A Personal Note” earned the Gold Medal for Excellence at the Park City Film Music Festival. Bruell was a producer for Newsweek Television and directed segments in Egypt and Greece for China Central Television’s series, “One World.” “A Visit with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit,” narrated by Paul Newman received a Grand Award at the New York International Film and Video Festivals.

Lucy is a recipient of multiple grants including support from the National Institutes of Health, the 911 Children’s Fund, and the Littauer Foundation. She received an M.S.  in Journalism from Columbia University where she was the William Wood Research Fellow in Broadcast Journalism. She is an Instructor at the NYU School of Medicine.  

Pola Rapaport - Editor

Pola Rapaport is a writer, director, and editor of many award-winning films. Her work-in-progress is “Marike: Death and the Racer,” about a Belgian Paralympic athlete planning euthanasia. Recent work includes “Nadia Comaneci: The Gymnast and the Dictator,” “Hair: Let the Sun Shine In,” “Family Secret,” the story of the discovery of the filmmaker’s secret Romanian brother, and “Blind Light,” a hybrid documentary/drama of a photographer’s peak experience in an Italian villa, starring Edie Falco.

She is the editor of several feature documentaries, including “Museum Town,” which premiered in 2019 at SxSW and “Heather Booth: Changing the World” and “Grace Paley; Collected Shorts.” She also edited SxSW Winner, “A Woman Like Me,” about facing a terminal disease, and Kathy Leichter’s “Here One Day.”

Rapaport is a recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and an Emmy nominee. She is a graduate of NYU. 

Jay Miracle - Editor

Jay Miracle, Editor, won a Primetime Emmy and the American Cinema Editors' Award for “Hearts of Darkness, A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.” He was an Editor/Writer on such projects as: “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Spirit Game,” and he was an additional Editor on the ITVS program: “Meet the Patels.” Jay co-directed and edited a feature on Norman Cousins: “The Healing Force,” and has written and/or edited several TV Specials, including “Diamonds” (on New York diamond dealers, and “The Colonel Comes to Japan,” on Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan, which won an Emmy for Best Documentary). Jay produced, directed and wrote “The Imposters,” the Discovery Channel documentary which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. He co-produced and was the sound recordist on the feature documentary “The Gates of Heaven” with Errol Morris. 

Samite Mulondo - Composer

Samite is a world- renowned musician, performer and humanist.  Now living on a farm in upstate New York, Samite is a Ugandan refugee who travels the world to spread the healing power of music. He is the subject of the documentary, “Song of the Refugee,” distributed by PBS in 1998. Samite has released nine CDs internationally and in 2009, the film “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” which features his original score, debuted nationally on PBS. More recently Samite collaborated with the filmmakers of “Alive Inside,” an award-winning documentary on the power of music to awaken the memories locked away in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Jarred Alterman - DP

Jarred Alterman is an award- winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer. He was the DP on “Bisbee ’17” which premiered at Sundance this year. His directorial debut, “Convento” was featured at the Margaret Mead Film Festival and won a special jury prize at the Independent Film Festival in Boston. Alterman recently won best cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival for “Contemporary Color,” a multi-camera concert doc featuring David Byrne, Dev Hynes, St Vincent and Ira Glass.  

He is a cinematographer for the on-going public television series “Art:21,” filming artists who work in a variety of mediums. He has worked with Charles Atlas and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on several films, including “Ocean,” a multi camera film shoot in a rock quarry in Minnesota.  He recently worked with Laura Poitras and Field of Vision, on “The Proposal,” a five- part documentary series in Mexico and Switzerland.

Ali Musoke - DP

Ali Musoke is a feature and documentary DP based in Kampala, Uganda.  He was the DP and a Producer on “N.G.O. Nothing Going On” which won best feature film at the Mashariki African Film Festival and earned a special jury mention at the Cartage Film Festival in Tunisia.  His documentary portfolio includes projects for HBO, National Geographic, Vitamin Angels, and Save the Children. He was also a camera assistant on Mira Nair’s feature “Queen of Katwe.”


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