Founded by Peace Anyiam-Osigwe in 2005, the Africa Movie Academy Awards, an annual award that recognises excellence among professionals who have contributed to the African film industry has certainly come to stay. Over the years, it has united the African continent through arts and culture and has remained the biggest and most credible jury-based reward system for filmmakers and professionals in the motion picture industry from Africa and Africans in Diaspora. As this year’s edition holds on October 20 in Kigali, Rwanda, Anyiam-Osigwe talks about the journey so far as well as her many other passions in this interview with Mary Nnah. Excerpts:
It has been 14 years since AMAA commenced. How has the experience been for you?
It has been a long hard road keeping the brand going. I feel a lot of things changed within the industry when AMAA came along especially in quality control. 14 years after, I wouldn’t say we have achieved our goals. I think AMAA is work in progress, but I think we are getting there. I am hoping that it is setting itself up to run itself. It is not so much about me. I want people to deal with AMAA as a brand. It is very difficult in Nigeria, when you want your brand not to be associated with you.
What would you describe as unforgettable moments with AMAA?
The first year, the hall was still being built a few days to the event; the fact that we couldn’t get enough hotels in Bayelsa; people staying in rooms without air conditioners and a few other things in terms of the different things that you experience when you are preparing for an event, being on the East\West road, travelling, and the journey on that road. Anyway, you never had any accident and so you are grateful. It is not easy keeping a brand going for 15 years especially in Nigeria.
Why have you chosen to go to Kigali for the next AMAA awards?
People keep asking why Kigali? This is because it allows more people to attend because there aren’t the bottlenecks of visas. You must have your paper works to enter the country but it is visa on arrival with documentations. This makes it easy for film makers to be able to gather to also discuss a way forward for the industry as it is necessary to do. We cannot just be film makers and nobody is watching the film.
As much as we want to have the glamorous side of AMAA and everyone dresses up and comes to celebrate the African cinema, I think what people also have to understand is that at the end, which is the important thing for me, is that the next generation of film makers and the fact that our films must travel beyond our shores and start to make the real income flow for us. So by going to Kigali for AMAA this year, we are opening up. We want these films to be seen and be talked about. And the whole idea is for us to bring the synergy between our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora to work with us here at home. So, the platform, AMAA, which celebrates African films and cinemas, is a huge platform for everybody to look at in terms of the celebration of African cinema.
What other benefits does AMAA offer, apart from the awards?
The Africa Film Academy in the last 14 years has actually trained 10,000 young film makers across the continent, from Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi and even one of the young ladies that I trained was among those nominated this year at the AMVCA. We are the only people that have trained in proper production design, we bring in good hands from the USA to train people on how they can actually design a production, just being a costumier or just being a makeup artiste but the whole idea of a production designer for a film. We bring in Cinematographers from across the world to train our film makers. We train on lightening and sound. A lot of times when we do this workshop we know that capacity building is a major issue in the African continent, so you get a lot of people who come into Africa and want to get funds to make films and they are also taking 95 per cent of the money that is the inflow back out because they are bringing the cinematographer, the sound engineer, and others.
We also help push good films as much as we can because there is no country that doesn’t lobby for good films to get into film festivals. Film industry is like politics. There is a way to lobby. You make sure that the film is good enough and you start to speak the language of film to each other to try and push that film to go into the film festivals. Festivals are where the buyers are.
Also, we will at AMAA this year in Kigali be discussing distribution at the African cinema business roundtable. When you watch some of the films nominated this year, you will understand where my jury is coming from. If you go to the film festival website, you will find some of the films nominated and this tells you these films are of a particular quality and they will keep travelling. For us to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our country, we must ensure that we continue to make quality productions that can travel.
What keeps you going?
I think that goes back to the title of my book I am writing at the movement, “Driven by Passion”, especially by my creative industry. I think I am a creative being from birth because I do a lot of different creative things. Apart from writing and creating films, I do a number of things with my brother. He does a lot of artworks. My mom used to trade in fabrics and I took over from her. So, I always do things that relate to that.
In the entertainment scene, I worked with PSquare at the beginning. I think they are the most amazing talents and I think that at this stage they just have to come back as brothers first and foremost. I will always be there for them. They know that and we are family. Paul is playing for us in Kigali. I always mentor young people in the creative industry. I used to make beads, sets and cushion covers, soft furnishing. All these keep me going.
What is the message in the book, “Driven by Passion”, which you are writing at the moment?
The book is about me and my journey in the creative industry. The working title at the moment is “Driven by Passion”.
What motivated you to write this book?
I think people have to kind of hear the fact that I started writing when I was nine years old. I want people to know my story and all the things that I do. I realise that sometimes it is important to tell your own story, in your own words. So, that you can also have young people realise that you don’t give up. You just have to keep dreaming and realising those dreams.
What were you writing about as a kid?
My mom said that I was always writing about the things that I didn’t like. I was brought up as an only girl. I had seven brothers and I found writing as a way of expressing myself, my thoughts and the different things around me. Even in school, things were different; there were only two black kids in my school. So, I felt odd, learning and unlearning make-up because what they were using on their face was not what I could use on my face. I wrote poetry and I have two or three poetry books. I also wrote a lot of articles.
Did living with seven brothers affect your outlook on life?
Yes, it did. I’m a total tomboy. That was why my mom sent me to an all-girls boarding school but that didn’t really change anything because at the end of the day, I still went home to my brothers. They affected my life more and then I was very close to my father too. My mom was the one that wanted me to be girly but I don’t think that I can be the girly, girly type.
What do you cherish about your mother and what are some of the things that you share in common with her?
The only thing that I think I share in common with my mom, Dorothy Anyiam-Osigwe is the fact that she is a lady. She is a perfect lady; she likes make-up, doing her hair, those things that I don’t really care about. However, the things that I learnt from her were her value system. She also likes cooking; making sure that your surroundings was clean and working hard. I think I learnt all that from her. She won’t agree that she is a workaholic, but she is.
She is still alive. She is 85 and she is still working. My mom is the most forgiving human being I have ever met in my life. She can forgive anything. She would tell you that love conquers all. If you get angry with anybody, she would tell you to forgive that person. She has a large heart and she can give her last to anybody. She is not attached to anything. I learnt that from her. In addition, she is extremely prayerful. She comes from a very big family; they are eleven. She is a teacher and a philanthropist. Also, we used to live with my grandma; she died when she was 105. But then, my mom and I were like cat and dog till I lost my dad. I was closer to my father. When I lost my father, she was like ‘now, you are my friend.’ She actually made me study law, just to please her. I was actually doing film and she came to London and asked me do Law.
Can we say that you were daddy’s girl?
Yes, in all things – in my faith, my ability to just not be afraid, to take up challenges and letting me to be very independent. My dad made me extremely independent. I don’t know if that works in the Nigerian system for a woman. He also changed a lot of things. For instance, in the village, he built a place for me and people were surprised. But he said he wanted me to go to the village whenever I want to. So, those are the things that make me a daddy’s girl.
What lessons have life taught you?
Life has taught me gratitude. A few years ago, I got sick; my skin changed colour. I just woke up and my skin started changing colour and just about finding out what it was, I lost my brother, Michael, who was running the foundation. He went for something and then, they shot him. So, my perspectives in life changed totally in terms of living our life just as it is and in turn I realised that everyday could be your last. I don’t think anything can change you, more than something that is significant. He had just been with me in the hospital.
When you go through such experiences like that then live your life for the best; don’t live it for anybody else. Don’t try to prove any point to anybody but just be as good as you can to the next person.