African filmmakers meet in Nairobi to count blessings and plot

Source: MWENDA wa MICHENI in Nairobi -
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In less than two weeks, African filmmakers; actors and critics congregate in Nairobi, not just to witness the unveiling of finalists picked for the continental 7th edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), but also to take stock of the industry.

Ahead of the event, Tony Anih, the Executive Secretary of AMAA, spoke on the event and state of African Cinema. Excerpts:

What does AMAA promise this year, and how is it going to deliver results?
AMAA has the highest number of films 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 during the nominations and the actual awards ceremony. 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 Ole-Sereni Hotel on Mombasa Road. There will also be a music concert dubbed Nairobi Rocks with Stars on 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. 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 awards project and what, so far, what 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 production house alone entered 10 films and, in all we have about 27 entered from Kenya. In Francophone countries of Africa, we have more entries this year than ever before. AMAA received more films from South Africa this year than we had in the previous years. More films came from the Diaspora, especially the US, Europe, Australia and Asia. This goes to show that more Africans are getting very involved.

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 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 festivals. Furthermore, AMAA winners have also been celebrated in major 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.

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 the coming of the digital age, this is what we are trying to tap into so as not to be left behind. 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 that 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. Nollywood was named by Unicef as the world's second largest producer of movie content in the world after India's Bollywood. This is a milestone for Africa. In the next 10 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, Fespaco 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 festival circuits. This is because we have different categories of filmmakers. There are those who make festival films, and those that make commercial ones. 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 Kahiu got enormous visibility. Kahiu was invited and is still 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.

Where do you see Nollywood in 10 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 inflow in revenue from other parts of the world. And by implication, position Africa as a powerhouse in the world cinema.