AMAA… Redefining African film industry 18 years on
The founder of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, is happy that the seed she planted 18 years ago has germinated to become a global platform through which filmmakers from Africa and the diaspora have been recognised and celebrated.
In this interview with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, she spoke on the challenges of founding, financing and sustaining the awards scheme.
The AMAA is celebrating its 18th edition in the next few weeks. The founder, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, is upbeat about its celebration. She says the journey has been an interesting one, a learning curve, a contribution to the growth of the African film industry, “and a fulfilment that the academy found a void in the African film space and has, in 18 years, filled with a globally accepted and renowned project that continues to contribute, reward and keep up with global standard practice,” the film academy boss says.
According to Anyiam–Osigwe, founding it was hard; sustaining it has even been harder. “We needed to be authentic with judging ourselves in our own way. And not just competing in one category in anything, or being seen as second-class citizens. So, we found that looking for sponsors, and then, finally, getting the support of certain people to start the AMAAs in 2005.”
She adds, “it was good. We had a good run with Bayelsa State’s supporting armour. It wasn’t smooth. And a lot of people didn’t realise that much money wasn’t given to us. But we had a lot of goodwill. And we put a lot of our own finances into it, as well. It did a lot for AMAA and kept it going. But again, people didn’t realise that one of our biggest sponsors actually was the United Bank of Africa (UBA), which had a three-major deal with us and that was the big break for AMAA. And I think that’s one of the biggest branding deals that have been signed in Nigeria, for an event at that time with Tony Elumelu.”
She explains, “we have had some interesting partnerships with different brands. We’ve worked with different countries, in terms of building up their film industries and having the AMAA nominations there. And I think one of our most interesting nomination parties was the one we held in Los Angeles, as well. So, sustaining AMAA is hard work, because it does cost a lot to do. You have to take off a lot of costs from African filmmakers; most of them struggle to make films. You have to provide that to have the kind of show that you want.
“So, we’re forever looking for support, wherever, looking for sponsorship to be able to bring the filmmakers to the award itself. And then, of course, to have the kind of award ceremony that you want to have, have the events the way it’s supposed to be done.
“They run themselves totally. There is a chairman of the screening committee. There’s a director of the screening committee, the president of the Governing Council, and there’s also the Governing Council within the jury, there’s a governing council that is responsible if there are issues that come up, or questions brought up by filmmakers as to what they think went wrong in the jury or inquiries of the awards scheme that is taken up by our governing council. And the Governing Council is made up of five people out of the Academy of jurors, which is the team at the moment, although some new ones have been appointed. So, there are so many.
“When I say many levels to the awards that people don’t see that keep running, year in, year out, it’s functional. We, because it’s a jury system for three months, are watching films with free select selectors, and then the college of screeners, and then the academy jurors. So there’s always a check and I don’t get involved with that process. And I’m thankful I don’t have anything to do with that process because it’s a difficult process,” she admits.
A lot of people know about the rewarding arm of the academy, which is AMAA. Not many people know about its partnerships and capacity building, especially with the Lagos State government on the growth of the film industry.
The academy, African Film Academy, has been involved in different partnerships with stakeholders such as the Directors Guild of Nigeria in building capacities and contributing to the industry through training and support.
“In 2021, we embarked on a project known as the Film in a Box, where we gave ourselves a target of producing 100 films and training emerging filmmakers. All these and many more are projects that are attributed to the brand,” Anyiam-Osigwe explains.
At first, only a few filmmakers and countries submitted entries, but the few countries and filmmakers that sent in their films gave the dream the life it needed to take off.
Some people also believed it was a Nigerian awards ceremony, “but we continued to make consistent and concerted efforts to enlighten and meet with other African film practitioners on the need to submit entries for the awards. We also had the support of the Bayelsa State government under the leadership of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan.
For some years, the award ceremony was held in Bayelsa and contributed immensely to the tourism and popularity of the state. We have also taken the award to different parts of Africa to get it closer to other Africans.
AMAA is a continental film/movie awards ceremony that rewards professionalism and not mediocrity, so, as it grew, we kept getting more entries and it practically became the awards ceremony to beat. I can confidently tell you that AMAA set the pace for other film awards ceremonies in Africa.”
The African Film Academy, which is an arm of AMAA, has continued to do things across Africa, but this year, majorly, what has African Film Academy been able to achieve?
She breathes heavily and smiles: “This year, we worked very closely with the Lagos State government in training people on the field. On what the African Film Academy has done over the years, we’ve done over well with the amounts of people who have trained this year, we have closer to 12,000 people in our training database. And what have we done, we’ve basically gone to the field, and trained people in something we call film in a box.”
She says, “it’s a training module that we came up with, which is technical training and practical training. So you get the classroom training, and all the theory and how it works and understanding it and understanding what film is, you’re made to watch films to understand the different kinds of films that can be made. And then you’re made to go in the field and learn how to practically do these things. So, it’s normally a six to eight weeks course. In this case, we’ve actually done longer than that with the Lagos State government in Alimosho. We did Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry.
According to the filmmaker, they really had good trainers coming from all over the world, both locally and internationally.
“And we tried to train them in all kinds of filmmaking. We tried to train them with films that we could call, you know, Arty films, we tried to train them in what we call commercial films and we tried to make them understand that they have to look at budgets, they have to understand budgeting, they have to look at production values. And I think, one of the areas that we paid a lot of attention to was, our directing students, our editing students, and our cinematography students. I think we’ve actually put a lot of value in the system into the capacity building of these students in Lagos with the kind of training that we’ve actually brought on board.
“I feel it was impactful. I feel it would be seen and felt very soon in the ecosystem of the Lagos film industry.”
AMAA used to be a big deal to filmmakers and even filmmakers. The advent of some movie awards and perhaps, AMVCA seem to have taken the wind off the sail of AMAA’s boat. She doesn’t feel that way.
Anyiam-Osigwe says the award remains a rallying point for filmmakers. It has set the pace for continental film and movie awards ceremonies in Africa. “We have continued to create fora and platforms for capacity building, training, and re-training on current globally acceptable standards in filmmaking, curating, and exhibition. So, I know AMAA has done a lot, you know, in terms of capacity building, which I mentioned earlier on.”
On contribution to the growth of the film sector on the African continent, she says, “the story of the film industry in Africa can’t be told without the inclusion of AMAA in the last 18 years. Films that have won awards at AMAA or even nominated have gone ahead to do well at international film festivals like Cannes, TIFF, Berlinale, and others.”
To the AMAA boss, filmmakers across the continent actually look forward to the awards. She reveals, “AMAA is what a lot of these continental filmmakers look forward to. I actually have a joke that I tell people all the time, I say, Africa and the rest of the world appreciate AMAA more than even the Nigerian filmmakers, who don’t really see the value in winning the AMAAs, except for a few. And if you ask some filmmakers like Akin Omotosho or Kenneth Gyang, or some of them that have seen the value or even the guy that won with Viva Riva, there are so many people I could mention Nate Parker, who has won AMAA, they see the value in AMAA because you see, the people who are on the Jury of AMAA are respected adjudicators on critics of African cinema in the world, they are the ones that look at African cinema that is going to go to festivals that will be appreciated at festivals, etc.”
She adds, “you have someone like Youkou Babu, June Givanni, these people are known for African cinema all over the world, these are names that the people can see resonate for them because they’ve been in it for years. What I always tell people is that if your film gets to the last stage of AMAA, do know that you’ve done something very well. And the other thing that people have to understand is that the jury doesn’t always agree, they actually fight. They actually have issues amongst themselves. They actually sometimes totally say no to certain films that come from the College of Screeners. They return it back and say, no, there’s something wrong with what the college has done here. They really watch this film, so, you have to give them that respect to leave them to take those decisions that they want in their own way, and I don’t get involved. So, it’s the ability to keep the AMAA separate and the jury system separate. And for people to realise that it’s not a voting award, it is a professional award, that over 100 eyes, get to see these films before the winners are actually chosen.”
So you are saying AMAA is majorly about critically rewarding the film and practitioners?
“I’ll actually agree with you that we’re more about the professionalism of the film and practitioners. And a lot of people accuse me and accuse us of paying more attention to the back end than we pay to the front end.”
Let’s talk about the jury, how credible and objective would you say the AMAA jury is because there has been some criticism in the past about winners?
“As I noted earlier, it’s an award where winners emerge after critical assessment by the competent jurors. The jurors are credible film practitioners, who have been and are still curators for several festivals, and festival directors, with tested and proven records of their achievements.
Keith Shiri is the Head of 2022 and I can tell you for a fact that the jury is the best you can find in Africa. We can’t help sore losers but as I noted earlier, nominees and winners of AMAA have gone ahead to do well at international film festivals and global film fora.”
On what should we look forward to in the 18th edition, according to Anyiam-Osigwe, “all I can tell you is that this would be another memorable edition and the second in Lagos State under the support of amiable Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. It promises to be memorable.”
AMAA is a continental film/movie platform created to reward excellence and professionalism in the film industry across Africa, and also, creates opportunities through capacity building and idea exchange across Africa.
To her, African film has grown in leaps and bounds from the glory of yesterday to evolve into the current offerings and a promise for a brighter future.
She continues, “my fulfilment is building a platform, an avenue where filmmakers can be rewarded for professionalism and not just glamour only. In the next two years, AMAA would have done so much for the African film industry as a whole.”
On the controversy over Nollywood, Hollywood and Bollywood, she had this to say: “As I have always preached, there’s no need for comparison or where the industries are at the moment. One thing is sacrosanct, Nollywood has come of age and is prominent as an emerging film industry to reckon with. Hollywood and Bollywood are industries that have been in existence before Nollywood and they are also not resting on their oars. So, in terms of where Nollywood stands, I would say it stands tall, bright, and prominent in the global film space.”
What is her take on government support for to film industry in Nigeria? She says, “honestly, there has always been government support in one way or the other.”
She, however, adds, “the support many expect is always financial or funds.”
Continuing, she reveals, “I know of the Lagos State government under Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The governor, through the ministry of culture and tourism, has impacted the film industry.
Aside from creating film funds to help filmmakers create magic, it has also supported filmmakers in the state through training and seminars. The governor also embarked on capacity building for youths, who are film/entertainment inclined.
In partnership with Africa Film Academy and EbonyLife, at least 3,000 youths in Lagos have acquired knowledge, and technical know-how on filmmaking and other aspects. Another state investing in film and seeking private and public partnerships to grow the film sector is the Edo state government. They recently held a five-day film festival that broke different boundaries. So, in all, the government in some capacity has been supporting the film industry.”