Nigeria Rebrands as Non-‘Nollywood’ Films Take Over 5th Africa Movie Academy Awards
By Ogova Ondego
Published April 23, 2009
Some time back in March 2009, I read an article by one Oniorode George in eTurboNews.Com that was quite critical of Nigeria’s attempts to re-brand itself. With the illustration of a lovely black woman holding a placard with the words ‘Is This A Scam?’ emblazoned on it, this ‘eTN Ambassador’ not only questioned why Nigeria should re-brand itself three times in 20 years as “Giant in the Sun”, “Heart of Africa” and “Good People, Great Nation,” but also appeared to be opposed to the exercise being carried out by a pharmacist, Dr Dora Nkem Akunyili, Nigeria’s new information and communications minister.
I read Oniorode George’s article shortly before the hosting of the continental Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria on April 4, 2009 and wondered how Africa’s most populous nation could use this platform to re-brand herself.
Come April 4 and delegates from 11 nations gathered in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, for the AMA Awards. This was an indication that what had been previously a Nigerian domain was, in less than five years, slowly becoming a continental affair. Five nations-Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria-were seeking to edge out one another over AMAA’s top prize: that of Best Picture (Best Film).
Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu’s FROM A WHISPER, that had 13 nominations out of the 24 categories that were awarded, made away with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Soundtrack, and Achievement in Editing statuettes.
South African Mink Schlessinger’s Zulu/Xhosa/English uGUGU no ANDILE (GUGU AND ANDILE, a South African version of Romeo and Juliet) took Best Film in African Language, Most Promising Actress, and Most Promising Actor prizes.
While Egyptian Saad Hendawy’s SEVENTH HEAVEN won Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role and Achievement in Sound, Ugandan Matt Bish’s BATTLE OF THE SOUL got away with Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role, and Achievement In Visual Effect.
Nollywood may have lost the battle for the main prizes to new entrants, but they appeared not ready to relinquish their hold onto costume, special effects and acting. Thus Nigerian Tunde Kelani’s ARUGBA grabbed Achievement in Costume and the non-continental, Nigeria-restricted Heart of Africa Award For Best Films From Nigeria (renamed ‘Good People, Great Nation’ award during the awards ceremony; in line with Nigeria’s re-branding as a nation of honest people).
By renaming ‘Heart of Africa’ award as ‘Good People, Great Nation’ award, the AMAA organisers appeared to be in sync with the image re-branding of Nigeria being fronted by Dr Akunyili, Nigeria’s former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and tough-talking minister for information and communications who insists that the image of Nigeria must be re-branded: “Our image outside this country is pathetic. Every Nigerian is literally seen as a fraudster or a criminal until you prove otherwise. We need some form of rebranding.”
While Izu Ojukwu (CINDY’S NOTE) snatched the AMAA Achievement in Cinematography prize from Marius van Graan (FROM A WHISPER, Kenya), Ramses Marzouk (SEVENTH HEAVEN, Egypt), Greg Heimann (GUGU AND ANDILE, South Africa) and Stephen Njero and Tony Matomi (BATTLE OF THE SOUL, Uganda) and the acting of Mercy Johnson (LIVE TO REMEMBER) was declared Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Funke Akindele beat front-running compatriots Stephanie Okereke and Nse Etim (RELOADED) and Stella Damasus-Aboderim (STATE OF THE HEART) to the Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role award. Dedicating the award to God and her crew, Akindele attributed it to hard work.
Overall, Kenya took home six awards, including that of Best Short Documentary that was won by Judy Kibinge’s COMING OF AGE. The Best Short Film Award, for which Kenya was a strong contender with James Kanja’s PAMELA and Kibinge’s KILLER NECKLACE, was not given on what the jury described as “wanting quality” and “not enough entries”. In this category was also a film by Tsitsi Dangarembga of Zimbabwe.
Best Animation Award went to KONO of Burkina Faso that had competed against Lola Kenya Children Screen’s LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS DANGEROUS, MANANI OGRES and CHEPRONO.
If anything, AMAA 2009 proved that ‘Nollywood’ filmmakers must change the way they work. The only Nigerian filmmaker who appeared to hold his own against other Africans was Tunde Kelani who, strictly speaking, is not a ‘Nollywood’ filmmaker. He is formally trained in filmmaking and makes ‘creative’ rather than ‘commercial’ films.
The founder and chief executive officer of AMAA, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, says she created AMAA as a “platform on which Africans could not only speak with one voice but also recognise, reward and celebrate African filmmaking.”
“AMAA,” Anyiam-Osigwe says, “has been recognised by the European Union, the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.”
“The Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) has recognised AMAA as the prima facie awards body for African filmmakers, the European Film Academy has embraced AMAA while the British Film Institute wants to partner with us in order to get films from Africa which will be recognised at their various festivals.”
To market AMAA as a world class event, AMAA organisers invite internationally-acclaimed ‘Hollywood’ film personalities to the event. They have included Danny Glover (2005), Vivica Fox, Lou Gousette Jr and Miriam Makeba (2006), Monique and Cuba Gooding Jr (2007), Angela Basset and Courtney Vance (2008) and Forest Whitaker who was declared to be of Nigerian Igbo extraction (2009).
AMAA also confers Lifetime Achievement Award every year. In 2009, the recipients were Zeb Ejiro of Nigeria and Burkinabe film director, trainer and former secretary-general of FEPACI, Gaston Kabore.
Despite spending an estimated 70m Naira (about US$467,000) in 2009 on the event in Bayelsa alone, transport and accommodation ‘as usual’ remained the biggest problems facing AMAA that is usually held in the oil-rich but politically volatile Niger Delta state of Bayelsa.
Asked if AMAA will always be held in Bayelsa, founder Anyiam-Osigwe said AMAA will in future be held by the state that wins the bid.
“We’d see ourselves travel in order to balance the equation of other African countries. There is going to be a bid and once the bid opens whoever wins the bid will host AMAA for 2010,” Anyiam-Osigwe said at the Gloryland Cultural Centre where joint MCs, stand-up comedian Julius Agwu and AMAA 2008 Best Female Actress Kate Henshaw-Nuttall, conducted ceremony that many an MC only dreams of; they were very much at home with the audience who easily warmed up to them as if they were long time friends. Even the ceremony host ‘Bayelsa state governor’ Chief Timipre Sylva, did not escape Agwu’s jokes that put the audience in stitches.
The governor invited filmmakers from all over the world to use his state as a location, taking advantage of the Niger Delta state’s ‘ rich cultural heritage and tourism potential’. He said this would be in line with the state’s planned diversification of the economy and to avoid dependence on oil.
Though critics had pointed out the Bayelsa should seek to address development issues and pay salaries of teachers instead of “wasting” 70 Million Naira on AMAA, Chief Silva contended that this is a worthy investment for the “post-oil production” era.
Thanking Federal President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua for “granting amnesty to all militants in the Niger Delta,” Silva expressed optimism that the amnesty would lead to ‘unprecedented development of Bayelsa.’
Governor Silva ‘as if responding to the logistical challenges facing AMAA’ pledged that the hosting of the next AMAA would be better, as government would have put in place the necessary infrastructure to make it more successful.
Indeed, one cannot fail to see that the state (created in 1996 to placate the Ijaw community against feeling that the Niger Delta was neglected by the federal government) is frenetically trying to develop roads, hotels, hospitals, gas turbines, water projects, agro-fish ponds and several facilities to enable the state capital, Yenagoa, transform from a village to a modern city. In fact, pundits agree with Gov Silva that Yenagoa is the fastest growing town in Nigeria.
Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, the first elected executive governor of Bayelsa who was hounded out of office for alleged impropriety, is credited as the one who opened up the state by building roads and initiating the building of the Gloryland Cultural Centre and the ongoing 500-bed hospital.
Despite hiccups over accommodation, AMAA 2009 delegates were all housed in Yenagoa unlike before when they had to commute to and from Port Harcourt in the Rivers State.
While Nigerians are to be commended for creating a new image of their country around the world through attention arresting initiatives like AMAA, perhaps the emphasis should be on training people in the hospitality sector; it was in Yenagoa that I first encountered hotel staff who refer to their customers as ‘rats’ and are openly rude to them. It was also in Nigeria that I also learnt that the possession of a valid air ticket is no guarantee of a seat on a passenger plane!
Prof Akunyili (the chief image-maker of Nigeria)is also likely to be incensed to hear that some policemen stopped some foreigners who attended AMAA and openly demanded ‘dollars’ from them; they missed their flight while arguing with these so-called law enforcement agents!
Though giving mixed feelings and experience to AMAA delegates, Nigerians are not all ‘Yahoo Yahoo Boys’ who play 419, a game in which you ‘the foreigner’ loses and the Nigerian wins.
Perhaps Mama Akunyili who, as head of the national food and drugs control body did a lot to make Nigeria proud, is likely to be excited to know that events like AMAA, more than anything else, could help re-brand Nigeria more than any nice-sounding slogan; whether it be ‘Giant in the Sun’, ‘Heart of Africa’ or ‘Great People, Great Nation’. After all the late Captain Thomas Sankara’s branding of former Upper Volta as Burkina Faso (the country of the upright or the honest) has been successful, hasn’t it?