When Peace Anyiam-Osigwe decided to start the Africa Movie Academy Awards back in 2005, she had a number of objectives in mind. She wanted to create a platform to “celebrate Africans.” Borne as an initiative from the Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation, the Pan African awards has gone beyond celebration to rewarding and uniting African filmmakers across the globe and bring about positive change through film. Ten years down the line, supporters and critics would agree with Ms. Anyiam-Osigwe that the annual award has “raised the profile of African cinema” as evidenced in more films being accepted into mainstream international film festivals. In addition, the Africa Film Academy which runs the AMAAs has distinguished itself from the pack by using filmmaking as a veritable tool for development.
In 2013 alone, over 4,000 people benefitted from AMAA’s flagship programme – Film in a Box. The 21 day all-round film training course has been held in Gambia, Southern Africa and Nigeria. Beyond the development of technical skills, the values of team work and team building are promoted among participants. The programme has been well received and endorsed by the President of Rwanda, Mrs. Joyce Banda who hosted the nominations party in 2013. Also facilitated by Africa Film Academy is the Africa Film Business Roundtable which is held yearly in different countries. This event brings together captains of the industry and private sector to develop strategy and action plans to grow and develop African cinema. The discussions focus on distribution, finance and promotion of African productions.
The awards ceremony itself which is hosted annually in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State has enjoyed both local and international coverage. AMAA has been profiled on CNN, The Al Jazeera Picture Show and was broadcast live on Mnet Africa to over 270 million viewers. In line with its mission to showcase the best of African talents on a global stage, the organisers have been able to attract year on year leading Hollywood personalities such as Forest Whitaker, Lynn Whitfield, Danny Glover, Morris Chestnut and Vivica Fox among others.
However, the success and the achievements of the awards over the years have been marred by issues with logistics, stage management and production. According to Ms. Anyiam-Osigwe, “Half of that logistics problem is not from us as AMAA…when you have to work with state government officials, it’s difficult. Those are some of the things we’ve put on the table this year for clarification. If that is sorted out, then we will not have problem with this year’s event.” In addition, Bayelsa has no airport which means visitors have to embark on a two hour journey by road from Port Harcourt city in neighbouring Rivers State. For a smoother operation, a lot more collaboration with the private sector is necessary if the full potential of the event is to be realised. Opportunities in tourism are huge considering what Calabar has been able to achieve with its yearly jazz festival and month long carnival celebrations. However, the securing private sector sponsorship has been “difficult and is still work in progress.” According to its founder, AMAA receives more international support. However, things are looking brighter for this year’s ceremony as the organisers have been able to bring more local companies on board. In addition, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Honourable Seriacke Dickson has pledged to fully support the awards and has played an active part in raising funds from corporate Nigeria.
For its tenth anniversary celebrations, the nominations party will hold on 2 April in Johannesburg, South Africa. “We have done a lot of work in the Southern region in the past year and in a way it is to give back to President Jacob Zuma and Mrs. Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi who hosted the AMAA Nominations in 2013”, said Ms. Anyiam-Osigwe. This multi-country collaboration also extends to the composition of its jury which has helped to cement its authority in the industry. The jury comprises Berni Goldblat, Steve Ayorinde, John Akomfrah, Keith Shiri, June Givanni, Hyginus Ozoemen Ekwuazi, Shaibu Husseini, Ayoku Babu, Asantewa Olatunji and Dorothee Wenner. To further leverage on its international support and influence, the organisers have done a strategic media partnership in the Caribbean, the USA, South Africa and Kenya.
AMAA, not resting on its oars has continued to have local relevance for African filmmakers. 2014 AMAA Brand Ambassador, Lydia Forson shared her story about how the awards opened doors for her. “I met Kunle Afolayan at AMAA and he told me he liked my acting and he would like to work with me. Two years after, he called me to work on his set for his film Phone Swap.” She goes on to say, “When I won AMAA as Best Actress with Jackie Appiah. The calls for jobs were coming in from different parts of the world and when I asked why they were all calling me, they said ‘but you are have just been crowned as the best actress in Africa’.” Veteran Nollywood actor, Zack Orji said, “AMAA has made the Africa movie great. Now Africa and African films are being celebrated. Now we have proved to the world that we have come of age.”
While AMAA has attracted the audience of leaders across Africa and filmmakers alike, a finding conducted among cinemagoers in Nigeria showed the awards played a smaller role in determining their film choices. For viewers the actual content and people involved were much higher up the list. Bola Audu said, “I trust a filmmaker over an award. I will watch a movie that Tunde Kelani produces because his movies are real. His movies don’t insult the intelligence.” According to Bimbo Olaiya, “I might watch a movie that has won an AMAA but it is not the first requirement. For me the directors and actors are key. Also, I read the synopsis to see if it is interesting.”
Buoyed by the need to engage its audience, the AMAA organisers announced a People’s Choice Awards (PCA) system as a way of re-engaging with the past winners of AMAA and also, to create a two-way communications between the past winners and the populace. “We are giving the public across Africa to choose their best from our past winners in all the categories. This is different from the main award which is jury based.” said its founder. To add to the excitement, winners in each of the categories will get cash reward of $10,000 each and the public will have chance to text and win fabulous prizes ranging from phones, Ipads and a car. Also included in the 10th year anniversary celebrations is a Media Recognition award aimed at rewarding journalists who have supported the awards.
AMAA’s story will be incomplete without talking about the rebirth of Nigerian cinema. Starting with Stephanie Okereke’s student film Through the Glass, cinemagoers for the past ten years have been enjoying quality movies from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Silverbird General Manager, Ayo Sewanu said, “There has been a tremendous improvement in the patronage of Nollywood movies in cinemas in the last couple of years. Nollywood producers that have made efforts in improving the quality of their productions always perform amazingly well at the box office.” In 2013, FilmHouse compiled listed a top 10 list of Nollywood movies which included seven Nigerian and three Ghanaian productions. Interestingly, the chart was dominated by female producers and also featured a non-English film.
Also, there has been an increase in the number of filmmakers investing in big budget movies with Half of A Yellow Sun costing a whopping $12 million to produce. The movie which is set to begin its Nigeria screening in April 2014 was shot in Nigeria and funded locally. The star studded cast features award winning actors from Hollywood and Nollywood – showing again the endless possibilities that abound in Africa’s growing film industry. Segun Fayose of Mnet sums up the AMAA journey succinctly: “AMAA has really come of age. The producers now know that there are people monitoring what they do. So this has really helped to bring a great deal of advancement to the Nigerian movie industry.”
Story: Isabella Akinseye