The African Movie Academy Awards move to Bayelsa State in Southern Nigeria
This year, the African Movie Academy Awards (Amaa) will be "happening" in Bayelsa State in Southern Nigeria on April 20. Like last year when the party went to Lagos city in the Victoria Island, it won’t be a mere red carpet and fashion affair but also a great display of the state of African cinema.
The event, which celebrates African movies and their makers, has been around for over ten years, with varied effects to the continent’s industry. The first time I heard of it was in Burkina Faso during the Fespaco festival of 2009. Then, the Nigerian stars were in the house to market an event they had created for the entire continent, with great enthusiasm.
At the time, there was the usual resistance, especially from South Africa, another leading film industry in the continent. The Francophone Africa was still stuck with their events, Fespaco and Carthage, two leading festivals that the continent has held on to since the early days of independence. They were indifferent towards Amaa.
In the case of Fespaco that borrows heavily from Cannes Festival that takes place in France every May, it has largely retained the old connections and the thinking introduced by the French. In that regime, films had to have a huge budget and told a certain side of the African story.
In South Africa, the Sithengi film festival and market had just crumbled. Ogova Ondego, a notable Kenyan arts critic notes: "It was a big mistake for Africa...not to have supported the then Cape Town-based Southern Africa International Film and Television Market (aka Sithengi) that catered for the whole continent and the world."
Well said Ogova, but did that kill the spirit behind the initiative ? Nigerians would not allow it. Even Kenyans, Ghanaians and Tanzanians seemed to agree with the Nigerians on what had to be done, something that gave birth to movies made in Africa, for Africans and distributed, small-time, within the continent.
At first, the Francophone Africa largely ignored the Nigerians with their “small” story. But later, they reluctantly joined in and tried to make and distribute low budget movies. South Africans, in a show of their might, had already placed their films on the table for the continent to partake of, but they still looked beyond the continent.
The list of Amaa nominees this year clearly paints that picture: The event organisers received 328 entries from across Africa, up from 220 in 2011. These included 134 feature films, 88 short films, 57 documentaries and six animations. Nigeria leads the pack with nominations, with a number of titles from Southern Africa positioning themselves prominently.
From Kenya, Nairobi Half Life, a co-production between Kenyans and Germans, and a training film, seems to be the country’s best bet at the awards. Others from the East African country are Yellow Fever, Burnt Forest and Give Me Back My Home.
Worth noting is Nigeria’s strong showing in almost all the categories, which has been the trend on most of the popular African film awards. For instance, all the nominees for the Best Film by Africans Abroad are Nigerian. They include Turning Point, Assassins Practice, Last Flight to Abuja, Bianca and Woolwich Boys.
The question then is: why Nigeria and South Africa but not East Africans? Many reasons I guess. One is the deliberate efforts by these countries to enter awards, and hence boost their presence across the continent.
The other reason is the country’s number of pop productions and promotion of the same across the continent. Haven’t we seen them traverse the whole continent pitching their stories, with great passion, and their presence on the continent’s screens?
These among other factors have boosted the continent’s film sector, especially stretched it out of the exclusive reach that earlier initiatives like Fespaco and Carthage caged it in.
As we shift our eyes to Amaa, it cannot be the story as usual. A lot is changing and must change, if African cinema is to take its rightful position. I am watching keenly.