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The death toll from Amin's regime will never be accurately known, but rights groups estimate half a

The death toll from Amin's regime will never be accurately known, but rights groups estimate half a million people disappeared.

Whitaker: Filming in Uganda Was Vital

Filed at 12:42 p.m. ET

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Forest Whitaker said Saturday that his portrayal of Idi Amin in the award-winning movie ''The Last King of Scotland'' was made stronger by filming in Uganda, where more than 500,000 people disappeared during the brutal dictator's rule.

Whitaker, who has been nominated for an Academy Award, returned to the country for the East Africa premiere of the film at a Kampala cineplex on Saturday night. The cast and crew were welcomed by traditional drummers wearing black and white monkey-skin headdresses and members of the country's elite, many dressed in tartan.

Whitaker said making the film in Uganda allowed him ''to be surrounded by people who have experienced Amin, who knew the situation emotionally and internally.''

''All of the people were helpful in trying to guide us to the truth,'' he added.

''The Last King of Scotland'' is the first Hollywood movie to be filmed on location in Uganda and won best British film at this year's British Academy Film Awards. It deals with the fictional relationship between Amin and his Scottish doctor during the darkest years of the dictator's rule in the 1970s.

Amin's secret police force was notorious for torturing and killing Ugandans they believed to be political opponents. The death toll from Amin's regime will never be accurately known, but rights groups estimate half a million people disappeared.

Many Ugandans are eagerly awaiting the general release of the film scheduled for later this month. Ishmail Ssemamba, who runs a movie rental kiosk in one of Kampala's suburbs, says he has been inundated by questions about it.

''I watched them filming some scenes and Whitaker was exactly like Amin,'' he said. ''What was good is that he made him into a human being, not just a monster. Amin cared about Uganda and Ugandans. He did many good things for our country, but people just remember the blood.''

The Ugandan actor Stephen Rwangyezi said he was also glad the film portrayed Amin as a fully rounded person, but he worried many young Ugandans do not know their history.

''One of the weaknesses I think here is that we do not document our history, we do not teach our children, we don't bring it to life and immunize ourselves against the chance of reoccurrence,'' he said.

Sam Ewan, a driver who watched the stars arrive for the screening, said the film will serve as an educational tool. ''Someone born in the 1980s will not know Amin, this introduces him to a young generation,'' he said.

Local media, meanwhile, have devoted little space to the film's opening.

''Part of the problem is that they have taken an African story and handled it in a Hollywood manner,'' says Robert Kabushenga, managing editor of the government newspaper, The New Vision.

''It is designed for Western audiences and has not been marketed for Ugandans. The actors have come to Uganda just to endorse the movie, not to involve the country in the film. Even while they were filming here, it was a very exclusive club,'' he said.

President Yoweri Museveni attended the premiere Saturday night, along with director Kevin Macdonald and James McCoy, who played the Scottish doctor.

They walked down a red carpet into a cineplex on the top floor of a shopping mall -- a humble opening by Hollywood standards. Bemused shoppers watched the revelry from afar, not certain what was happening because the event was not widely publicized.

Macdonald told reporters earlier that he originally intended to make the film in South Africa, but changed his mind after visiting Uganda to research the film.

''We all fell in love with this place and we realized the film would be so much richer if it was made here,'' he said.

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