My earliest memory of the Africa Movie Academy Awards was the glitz, glam, a Hollywood star and a Nigeria dominated awards. And of course, Bayelsa State. That was almost ten years ago. Then things began to change albeit gradually. Perhaps, the criticism was getting too much for the organisers and they began to work hard to legitimise the ‘African’ claim in their name. All of a sudden, countries like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya began to clinch more awards. But that wasn’t enough, the critics wanted more; they wanted a hitch free event devoid of lengthy and boring speeches and one that had perfect logistics. That is not to say that there were no good reports but bad news sticks.
I started paying more attention to the Africa Film Academy which runs the awards and trainings when Malawi’s President, Mrs. Joyce Banda got involved. Still, my affair with the AMAAs started and ended on the pages of the newspapers and blogs; viewing pictures and reading reports. All that changed in 2013 when Confusion Na Wa won Best Picture. I just wanted to watch the movie and see what an ‘AMAA film’ looked like. Did the film really deserve the label? Was it different from the usual Nollywood fanfare? And all the noise about a Nigerian trained director – Kenneth Gyang? These were just some of the questions that were swirling in my end. And that was the beginning of my journey to the 2014 AMAA nominations.
Confusion Na Wa is not your typical Nollywood movie. It sits comfortably with the works of Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan which all serve as my evangelism tools in converting the naysayers and critics who think they have seen it all on the Africa Magic channels. This movie scores on many fronts; intelligent script, attention to detail and great cinematography. It is a film you’ll watch with your ears and mind wide open and your brain fully awake. So with my confidence in the AMAAs boosted, I wanted to support their efforts in my own little way as a writer, photographer and digital marketer. It was a brand I now wanted to be associated with.
As Editor of Nolly Silver Screen magazine and website, I started sourcing for materials about the 2014 edition and contacted Shaibu Husseini of The Guardian newspaper to be put on the mailing list. He promptly redirected me to Tope Ajayi of Portion Consult Limited reminding me that his role as a jury member would not allow him to function in a ‘marketing’ capacity. Let me just stop here and say that when it comes to transparency, the AMAAs win hands down. There are no secrets about the membership of the jury, the numbers of films submitted, the screening process and what to expect generally. I was personally invited to come and see for myself during the screening process in Lagos. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it but I still got a report and pictures on Nollywoodaccess.com. Timely press releases were sent out and the website updated regularly. The opportunity presented itself again for me to witness an AMAA event – this time it was the nominations party in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I already had expectations based on the last two Nollywood awards I attended: Nollywood Movies Awards and Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. These events had a lot of Nollywood people in attendance. People dressed like they were on the runway in Paris – all wanting to turn heads. Cars were given away and choice venues used not to mention the musicians who performed. To cut a long story short, a lot of money was spent from the marketing to the event proper.
So arriving in South Africa, I was expecting a lot of popular faces. Maybe I would see Hlomla Dandala or the filmmakers behind Othelo Burning. From Nigeria, maybe the duo of Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji would make an appearance. And who knows President Banda might even come? I arrived a day to the event so I was able to network and speak to other participants – a handful of filmmakers and gentlemen of the media. In those two days, I learnt a lot from conversations over our meals. We talked about Nigeria, South Africa, Nollywood, the economy and AMAA. Clearly, people were excited to be here and speculations were rife on which country would dominate the nominations.
You know what they say about time when you’re having fun; it flies by quickly. The nominations night was upon us and I was prepared – camera and phone in hand. On the bus ride to Emperor Palace Hotel, Johannesburg, I began tweeting and as soon as we arrived, I started ‘snapping’ away. In between updating social media and getting names of the people I had ‘snapped’, I was able to talk to a South African filmmaker interested in collaborating with Nigeria. And yet people say that South Africans and Nigerians are always at logger heads? Not at the AMAAs. And though the night started slowly, the familiar faces from back home began to appear in front of my lens; Ramsey Nouah, Lydia Forson, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Fathia Balogun, Chinedu ‘Aki’ Ikedieze and Funso Adeolu. Others included Fred Amata, Paul Obazele, Chinwe Egwuagwu, Fidelis Duker, Chidi Nwokeabia, Charles Awurum and Norbert Ajaegbu. And though there was no President Banda, the delegation from Malawi was led by her daughter, Mrs. Edith Akridge. There were also representatives from government of South Africa and Namibia. There were people from radio, TV, online and print media. Worthy of note, Martin Ayankola and Martins Oloja, the Editors of two of Nigeria’s leading newspapers – The Punch and The Guardian were both present. Segun Arinze kicked performed superbly as the compere of the night. As expected, there was music, dance, speeches and food before the nominations proper.
Listening to Ms. Peace Anyiam-Osigwe speak passionately about the role of film in changing people’s lives, I was convinced that The Africa Film Academy mean business. AMAA for them is not just about pretty clothes and popular faces; it was more about connecting Africa and presenting a positive image through film to an international audience. She spoke about the need for the Nigerian and South African government to forge better economic and cultural co-operation. “Our leaders should invest in our future and creative energy of the young people be it in music, film, fashion and other areas through appropriate funding and regulatory framework that will make the creative industry viable just as the governments in India and United States did for their creative entrepreneurs.” Indeed, there is still so much that can be achieved. Mrs. Ebizi Brown, Director General of Bayelsa State Tourism Development Agency had some good news to share. She said Bayelsa was ready to host the 10th anniversary of the event and was also building a film city. “We have beautiful and exotic locations that are good for shooting of your films. We have stayed with AMAA in the last 10 years and we will continue as a state.”
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for – the announcements of the nominations into the 27 categories of the awards came. And as the Jurors took turns in letting us know who made it into this year’s list, it became obvious that the battle for supremacy would be fought between Nigeria and South Africa. South Africa’s Of Good Report, Felix and The Forgotten Kingdom gave Nigeria’s Apaye, Omo Elemosho, Accident and B for Boy a good run for their money. Ghana also showed promise with Potomanto, Good Old Days: Love of AA and Northern Affair and Kenya with Ni Sisi. Other successful countries included Mali, Cameroun, Mauritius, Tanzania, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Malawi among others. The Diaspora was represented by Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, USA, Canada, Jamaica and Venezuela. Unfortunately, no award will be given in the category of Best Film by an African living Abroad due to quality of films received which the Jurors found inadequate.
The night ended with an energetic performance from Kcee Limpopo which had everyone on their feet. And my cherry on the cake, I spoke to a filmmaker from Burkina Faso who was interested in collaborating with Nolly Silver Screen which is testament to the fact that AMAA does unite filmmakers across Africa. Ten years in the business is no feat and I can only imagine what the organisers have in store for us. Bayelsa, here I come!
Story: Isabella Akinseye