By Ogova Ondego
Published February 6, 2011
As Africa prepares for the unveiling of finalist filmmakers and films selected for the continental 7th Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in Nairobi, Kenya, on February 25, 2011, Tony Anih, the Executive Secretary of AMAA, speaks not just about the role of AMAA in the promotion of African cinema but also about the state of filmmaking in Africa.
It is yet another time for the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) to announce the films and filmmakers who excelled in 2010 and therefore deserve to be publicly recognised and awarded; what does AMAA promise this year, and how is it going to deliver results?
AMAA has the highest number of film entries this year. Many high quality films were submitted for consideration this year. Filmmakers have come to understand the fact that they have to up the ante in order to play this game. Africans and the world shall see very good films this year, during the nominations and the actual awards ceremony itself. We are working round the clock to ensure a very successful event.
What, exactly, is happening in Nairobi and why this location?
Nairobi will be hosting the Nomination Night on February 25, 2011. The venue is the Laico Regency Hotel in the Nairobi City Centre. There will also be a music concert dubbed Nairobi Rocks with Stars February 26, 2011 at the Carnivore grounds in Lang’ata. P-Square, J Martins, Edge, Kwela Tebza and a couple of other local artists from Kenya shall perform on one stage. Such African movie stars like Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Aki & Paw Paw, Desmond Elliot, Jackie Appiah, Majid Michel, Bond Emeruwa, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Ramsey Nouah, Segun Arinze, and Mercy Johnson will also be in attendance. Nairobi is the entry point into Eastern Africa. It is because of her strategic position that we are coming here.
Apart from Nigeria, how has the rest of Africa been involved in this film awards project and what, so far, are the results for African cinema?
The popularity of AMAA is growing every day. African filmmakers have come to embrace AMAA as their own equivalent of the US Oscars and that is why the number of film entries keeps growing every year. For example, AMAA received the highest number of entries this year from Kenya. One film production house alone entered ten films and, in all we have about 27 films entered from Kenya. In Franco-phone countries of Africa, we have more entries this year than ever before. AMAA received more film from South Africa this year than we had in the previous years. More films came from the Diaspora especially, the US, Europe and as far as Australia and Asia. This goes to show that more Africans are getting very involved in.
Every year, the AMAA Nomination Night moves from one African country to the other. This has created huge interest from not only filmmakers but movie fans who want their country to host the event. There is also big pressure from other countries, for instance, South Africa, for AMAA to be based in their country.
Over the last six years AMAA has managed to raise the profile of African cinema. Films that are nominated or win at AMAA are now getting internationally accepted in the world film festival circuits: Cannes, Berlinale, Toronto International Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles (USA), and London African Film Festival. Most AMAA-winning films have so far travelled and been screened in more than 26 international film festivals. Furthermore, AMAA winners have also been celebrated in major film festivals. Nigerian Kate Henshaw-Nuttal has walked on the red carpet in Berlinale, Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu got grants from foreign donors to make a short film after winning at AMAA.
In your opinion, where will African cinema be in about 10 years from now?
We are still growing. There is a new phase of African cinema, especially with coming of the digital age, this is what we are trying to tap into so as not to be left behind again. And tor us in AMAA, we are strongly promoting the idea that Africans must begin to tell their own stories using the cinema medium. This is beginning to yield fruits. More young Africans are now making films. These films are travelling places. We are beginning to have cinema culture all over again. Film institutions are being built across Africa. A good example is the brand Nollywood that is influencing many African countries: Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, etc. Nollywood was named by UNICEF as the world’s second largest producer of movie content in the world after India’s Bollywood in terms of content. This is a mile stone and a plus for Africa. In the next ten years or thereabout, Africa will be a force to reckon with in world cinema. Besides creating huge employment opportunities, lost African values and traditions will be restored through this medium.
Its every filmmaker’s dream to get a mention at festivals like Cannes and Berlin. When will AMAA get to the league of these festivals?
I must say that not every filmmaker would want to be mentioned on film festival circuits. This is because we have different categories of filmmakers. There are those who make festival films, and those that make commercial films. It is important that this is clarified. However, like I said earlier, AMAA-winning films are travelling all over the place. For example, after winning five AMA Awards, FROM A WHISPER by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiut got enormous visibility. Kahiu was invited and is still being being invited to film events, markets and festivals around world. FROM A WHISPER was screened in Pan African Film festival in Los Angeles where it won an award. It was also screened at Cannes International Film Festival (no connection with the Festival de Cannes), London African Film Festival, was screened in the pan-African Cinetoile African mobile cinema network that was conducted in eight sub-Sahara African countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South African, DRC, Mali, Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe. By winning AMAA as the best director and best film, Kahiu’ s short film, PUMZI, was funded by an American funding agency that support African films. Ugandan Matt Bish, another AMAA winner, got the funding for his short film the following year from the same organisation.
As a Nigerian producer, where do you see Nollywood in ten years and what is going to take it there?
I would want to see Nollywood drastically improve in quality so as to match the volume of content coming out of that industry. Most importantly, I’d like to see it influencing other African countries in making quality films. This will raise employment and in-flow in revenue from other parts of the world. And by implication, position Africa as a power house in the world cinema.
What are the emerging trends in Nollywood?
Nollywood is restructuring as well as injecting professionalism in its work. The guild system is being consolidated so as to improve in the administration of the entire Nigerian film industry; Nollywood now has a central coordinating unit called CONGA (Coalition of Nollywood Guild and Associations) where all the guilds and association in Nollywood belong. This has made the entire industry speak with one voice. By the way, Nollywood is the only film industry in Africa that has a true guild system. Nollywood producers have gone back to the drawing board and quality films are being made. More film schools, including government-run ones, are being put in place. In the area of distribution, a lot restructuring is taking place. New ways of distribution are emerging while traditional ones are modified. Cinema culture is once again coming back to Nigeria as private investors establish new cinema houses.
Who do you consider to be the newcomers of African cinema and what is propelling them foward?
I think there is really no new comer in African cinema. Every country on the continent has its cinema culture. But what happened to most countries as far as cinema is concerned is that economic recession took a heavy toll on their cinema cultures. And what then happened is that well known film houses were taken over by worship centres, mainly churches. Production houses also closed down. Many filmmakers who still want to practice moved over to Europe. But in modern African cinema, it is easy to say that some countries like Nigeria’s Nollywood has created a new consciousness which has greatly encouraged and inspired other African countries like Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya. Otherwise, for me, everybody is a newcomer. We are all still learning.