By Ogbonna Amadi, Entertainment Editor
Peace Anyiam-Osigwe creator of one of the most successful movie awards held on the African continent in this interview opens up on the challenges of the African movie industry and why the African Film Academy decided to set up a film funds.
What are we expecting in 2011?
2011 seems to be a year of many good things for us. We’ll go to Nairobi on the 12th of February. Actually we’ll leave Nigeria on the 10th. We have a series of events planned. We have a musical thing attached to the nomination night of the AMAAs and then the AMAA nomination event.
We have our theme for next year as Nairobi Rocks for Africa. Nominations will be announced in Nairobi on the 12th of February. Preluding that will be a musical show that is being put together by a couple of people.
We must appreciate that even though there were problems in the banking sector of Nigeria, sponsors still came through to support regardless of threat issue.
In show business, the show must go on regardless of whatever. It challenged us because we couldn’t do thing as timely as we had wanted to. At our secretariat right now, you’ll see work going on because already there’s a process. And that makes things a little easier for us.
The only thing is that we still have challenges with support and sponsorship generally, but with anything that has something to do with cinema across the continent, a lot of companies still don’t see the benefit of supporting their own brand. Unfortunately, sometimes Nollywood practitioners and film makers in Nigeria are not fair to themselves and their colleagues because as you’re trying to do something positive, others are doing something negative which actually ends up affecting the positive thing that we’re supposed to do.
This has not helped our image within corporate Nigeria. It has made corporate Nigeria a bit wary, nobody wants to tarnish their brand.
Could this also be responsible for the slide in the number of movies shot in the country lately?
No, it shouldn’t have.
What has happened is that the quality of movie has gone up so the less films. The quality of the new films coming out now have extremely exceeded expectations and that is good.
In spite of claim as number one movie nation in Africa, other African nations seem to have caught up with us…
They have, because all of them are learning and keep on training. When you talk training all over the world, the way the elders film makers come out for training is amazing.
Whereas in Nigeria, it’s the other way round. People think they know it all, so they don’t come out for training. And the equipment keeps changing, we have some fantastic new cameras coming in. So if you look at what has happened with what I call the new style of Nollywood, it’s the young film makers who are experimenting and playing with what they’re learning.
One of the young film makers that I know, Kenneth Gyang, is right now shooting with a D7 which is an analogue camera, but if you look at the pictures, they’re good. Gyang is a young film maker that came out of NFC. He’s shooting his film right now called Confusion Na Wah.
I was a part of the jury when his project was on so, I know about the project.
It’s really important to say that there is a new Nollywood. And if you look at the Nollywood box office, you’ll find one or two movies that have actually almost met the standards of some of the international films.
‘Figurine’ and ‘Ije’, are examples. Whether the film makers want to call themselves Nollywood and not, every Nigerian film maker is termed Nollywood.
But there is the argument that in spite of the acclaimed success of Ije, it was a movie basically dominated by foreigners?
Ije’s two lead characters are Nigerians, Omotola and Genevieve. Figurine is totally Nigerian. And that’s why I like to talk about Figurine because it’s a total Nigerian crew on that production, the director, cinematographer…
I try to distinguish some of these things to show that we can do it locally and totally as well. And Figurine is a good experiment.
And you believe AMAA has contributed to the growth of film making in Africa?
People aspire to get in the AMAAs. The AMAAs has opened a lot of doors. For the young lady that won in 2009, from Kenya, her film started making festival rounds immediately she won. In a recent interview, she said the AMAAs in terms of the film, changed her life.
I know Kunle Afolayan who won with ‘figurines’ has gone out there and is making a lot of in-roads into the international film circuit. When you win at the AMAAs, its now up to you to decide what to do with the opportunities that come with the winning.
How much support do the winners get from the AMAAs in the area of exposure?
We work with them most of the times when they win, we actually send a list of films that have won at the AMAAs to all the international film festivals. And some of them ask us directly for those films. And then we get in touch with the film makers to make sure that they send those films to the international bodies.
As an annual event, what are the greatest challenges you have with gathering movies all over Africa?
You know that is one of the reasons we now have regional offices. AMAA has full functioning offices across the continent right now. One in Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Kenya as well.
These offices are mandated to take care of their regions, reach out to film makers, network with them and collect the films. We found out that when we didn’t have regional offices, it was very hard to get those films but now that we do, people know where to send their films. Also our new website is very interactive you can submit your films there.
One place we’re trying hard to network is the North African film-makers because we’re not getting enough films from there. A lot of films are made in Egypt and Morocco and we want them to come in.
We also started the Diaspora Award for short films and features last year and the reason for that was specific. We needed to include our brothers in the diaspora who wanted to be included. They need to be part of this but if we involve them in direct competition (AMAA) it is going to be too tough for them.
Apart from the AMAAs, what other things are you doing to encourage local movie practitioners and film makers?
We do a lot of training with the guilds and associations in the different regions. This is to help training. And this year, we came up with the short film competition which is going on with the directors’ guild and the script writers’ guild. Basically, it is themed ‘the New Dawn.’ Its about Nigeria @ 50.
It’s supposed to be a ten minute short film. Right now they are pitching among themselves and get back to us when they have the right scripts. We’re going to fund the three short films.
This year also, we’re trying to set up the African film Academy Fund for African cinema. Basically, this film fund is going to be a revolving fund which film makers can ask us to loan them.
It will be repayable at the end of the film cycle. So when your film comes out, we will own part of it until the repayment of agreed term loan between us and you. You own your film but you’ll give us credit for supporting that film. Why its revolving and not a grant is that it can be a continuous investment for film makers.
We’re starting small because we’re trying to follow what all the other film festivals and organisations in the world do. We’re targeting at raising between 500,000 and one million dollars within the first year, hopefully we’ll grow the fund in the next five years to ten million dollars.
But we can help with the development of script to get it to the right stage where other funders will be interested and banks will see the viability. We’ll also fund distribution because distribution is the biggest African cinema.
The fund will not be totally technically managed by AFA. We have some fund managers. The AFA is going to set up a board and using the name AMAA has built over the last seven years to raise the funds for this film fund and then let the fund managers handle the rest.
In actualising this dream, have you given thought to possible oppositions?
Our name is African film Academy Film Fund. We, as an organisation have the right to set up a film fund within our own mandate as AFA. The other organisations like FEPACCI a sister organisation, has a mandate to also set up the African Films Fund.
We’re not setting up the African Film Fund. They can set that up and I’m sure that eventually, they will set if up. Theirs is an organisation that has been there for 40 years.
AFA has only been here for seven to eight years including the year before we started the AMAA. We’re setting up the film fund because we know that it is the greatest intervention we as the Academy can make in African cinema right now.
We’re not a political organisation. So I don’t see the conflict of interest. So I think that anybody looking at it should see it as a great intervention that needs to happen. African cinema is actually drowning in abject poverty.
We see our roles as partners to the growth of cinema within the continent. We have a board with people drawn from all over Africa, they are not people that you cannot talk to.
They are going to be here on Saturday. We have the regional directors from Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa coming for this meeting and the launch of the AFA film fund. You can also talk to our other board members and those that have worked with us in time past.
We know that we are the most transparent awards in our continent today.
I do not even know where the films are watched and screened. The arrangements are made by the Directors of Programming and the administrators.
On the day of the event, I get called and handed an envelope at the same time that my audience in the hall and TV audience across Africa is seeing it.
At one point we were accused of manipulating what happened at the awards. After that, none of my administrators got involved in the screening Afterall Shuaib Hussein has been chairman of the screening panel in the last three years and the reason for that is transparency.
We even have journalists come and watch the screening process so that they can testify to what the project is about. So when people try to cast aspersion on what we are trying to build since, we know that we have a positive agenda, we don’t look back.
Lets talk about the possible role of the government in curbing piracy and how it affects you.
We’re still waiting for their intervention. Piracy is killing the industry and not much is being done. It affects us because our producers are not making the money that they should so they can’t make the kind of films that they want to.
A lot of good film makers today do not release thir films unless they go to the cinema circuit which is what we’re doing But talking cinemas, we have only five or six screens across Nigeria, so how do you make money from that? If you look at that you’ll realise that its not just killing film makers but everything.
Why is AMAA moving out of Bayelsa?
AMAAs decisions are not personal. AMAAs board has some requirements for anyone that wants to host AMAA 2011. Every interested body should meet the list of requirements to be met at certain times. We’re going to take our final decision at the end of October.
AMAA would be eternally grateful to the government and people of Bayelsa State because when AMAA was a piece of paper, they believed in the dream. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha saw a piece of paper and went with it all the way.
Those are the issues on ground. However, we’ve always given the government of Bayelsa the first refusal option and that has been because of loyalty. Some people have said we have outgrown Bayelsa, the security implications and all because next year is an election year.
So at the moment, we’re waiting to hear from them on the first refusal option.
However, wherever we go today, tomorrow or in the next five years, we’ll always put Bayelsa State as our sponsors. We cannot tell the story of AMAA without telling the story of Bayelsa State. It is impossible for us to forget where we started from..
How much time do you have to take care of yourself?
You know I’m a tomboy. I grew up with brothers that made me get ready very quickly and be very practical with life. I take time out these days and hang out with my friends at the spa or with my sisters-in-law. I call them my sisters. My brothers have seven wives so they are my sisters.
Isn’t there supposed to be someone, a man, taking care of you?
I am divorced.
Isn’t there someone else?
That’s my private life.
You don’t talk about marriage, is that you fed up with it?
Not that I am. I just think that marriage should be a private thing between two people and I decided to keep my private life totally private. I did not say I don’t have a boyfriend. I do.
So how come no one seems to know. Are you hiding him?
It’s not about hiding him, its just that we decided to have a private relationship.
He must find it tough coping with your work schedule?
He understands. You know a lot of times you pray for what you want and then God gives you what you can have.
So in my life I probably just have the right people around me and I have a support mechanism. I have very good friends who support what I do, so the person in my life understands my work and copes with it. That way, when we need to make time, we make time.
Was it tough making up your mind to walk out of our marriage?
It was one of the hardest things to do at a particular point. I also remember that my dad said that you must put value on yourself and be honest to yourself. You shouldn’t lie to yourself and I think that’s the most important thing.
I needed to tell myself the truth. Just that at a point, we needed to go our separate ways. I still respect him a lot because he is one of the best directors I know. I think he’s also a damn good photographer.
Are you willing to give marriage a second shot?
When the time come I will let you know.