9 April 2009

Nigeria: AMAA - Africans Can Speak With One Voice

Lagos — Following the success of the AMAA 2009 edition, many movie stars have expressed their willingness to visit Bayelsa State more often in other to nurture their dreams, ideas and creativity, writes Chinyere Okoye

African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), which aims at bringing all African movie stars into its fold, ended last Saturday night, April 4, at the Gloryland Cultural Centre situated at Ovom, in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State. A stand-up comedian, Julius Agwu and Kate Henshaw-Nuttal were co-comperes of the function, attended by Governor Timipre Sylva and other top government functionaries. Agwu as usual, displayed his ingenuity with rib-cracking jokes that arrested the audience.

AMAA jury includes celebrated player in the American festival designer, Ayoku Babu, German film programmer, Dorothy Wenner, Kenyan-born British festival director, Keith Shiri and Editor, The Punch, Steve Ayorinde. A total of 25 categories were nominated for the prestigious award and given the overwhelming applause from the audience showed that the credibility and acceptance of the awards are never in doubt.

Peace Anyiam-Osigwe in a speech, welcomed the film stars to the fifth edition of the award, tagged, "Collection of Stars 2009." She did not forget to remember stars that has identified with AMAA till the cool hands of death snatched them away. They include Miriam Makeba, Gubarara Gadalla, Francis Agu, JT Tom West, Mama Ajasco, Susan Williams, Adekwe Joe, Kwame Ansah, Olu Morgan, Father Moses, Ebere Onwu and Usman Osuanbere. She prayed that their souls rest in perfect peace.

"The main reason why we initiated AMAA was to speak about ourselves because we are a great people," she said. Anyiam-Osigwe urged African filmmakers to take advantage of the African Movies Academy Awards as a veritable platform to reposition the cultural heritage of Africa. She enjoined the filmmakers to be united and believe in themselves irrespective of language or regional differences. She stressed that film makers should see themselves as brothers and sisters.

African filmmakers, she further stressed, should direct their resources at telling the true African stories themselves with a view to righting the wrong perceptions and views about Africa. "Give voice to Africans whose stories have always been told by foreigners in the past," she said.

Continuing, she said: "Unfortunately, in the past, we have depended on foreigners to tell us our own stories. But now, we have the opportunity to tell our stories by ourselves. AMAA is not just about reward system, but a celebration and an opportunity to tell the world who we are.

The chief host, Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State in an opening speech told the audience of how the America President, Barack Obama originated from Bayelsa State. "We in Niger Delta region have started to diversify our economy in preparation for a post-conflict era in which the prominence of oil as a major revenue earner will be de-emphasised, and entertainment, particularly the film industry is a viable sector that can produce thousands of jobs in the region."

Sylva spoke at the weekend at the Integrated Cultural Centre, venue of the fifth edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) hosted by his government with the United Bank for Africa Plc as headline sponsor. In recognition of the positive impact that movies can step up the economy, he also said his government is building infrastructures like hotels, parks and roads that will support that influx of Nigerians and international investors expected in Bayelsa in the post oil economy.

"We hope," Sylva said "that movies will be produced in Bayelsa. We know that thousands of jobs can be created and a host of professionals spurn from a robust engagement of the Nigerian movie industry in Bayelsa State."

Apparently, reacting to critics who think the state's support for AMAA is a waste of state funds; Sylva described the awards as an antidote for the global economic meltdown.

He said, "At a time like this, especially those of you who invested heavily in the stock market should sit down and find a reason to be happy and smile with the constellation of stars who are gathered here and hope that one day you can be a star like them.

Every year, AMAA invites internationally acclaimed film personalities to witness the event. AMAA 2009 was given international colouration with Hollywood stars Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover. The event also hosted the legendary Malian musician, Salif Keita, who performed with his compatriot, Ma Kayoute. South African artistes, Debra Fraser and the trio Kwela Teas also took the stage to entertain the audience at different times.

Forest Whitaker made his film debut at the age of 21 in the raucous comedy, "Fast times at Ridgemount high" in 1982 where he played naturally as a footballer and then "The twilight zone" in 2002. Whitaker is married to former model Keisha Whitaker and has three children.

Danny Glover is a dean of African America character actors; he imbibed his taste for political activism from his parents, both of whom were active members of the NAACP. After his graduation from high school, he met Asake Bomani and they have been married since 1975.

After several nominations in the Africa Movie Academy Awards, Nigeria was able to clinch a hand full of award on the 2009 edition. AMAA achievement in art direction, Small boy by Michelle Bello, AMAA achievement in make-up (Live to remember), best performance by a child actor, Richard Chukwuma in Small boy. Best performance by an actress in a leading role, Funke Akindele in Jenifa, best performance by an actress in a supporting role went to Mercy Johnson in Live to Remember. AMAA achievement in cinematography went to Izu Ojukwu in Cindy's note, AMAA achievement in costumes Arugba, Heart of Africa award for best films from Nigeria, also went to Tunde Kelani in Arugba.

However, Kenya emerged the new African champion in the movie industry. The East African country swept the much-respected awards with a film titled, "From a Whisper" that captured the unfortunate incident of the 1997 bombings in Nairobi. Kenya won five awards including "Best Director", "Best Picture," "Best Screenplay" and "Best Original Soundtrack."

Other countries on the awards table were South Africa with three awards. Egypt and Uganda went home with two awards each, while Niger and Burkina Faso also had one award apiece.

Head of the AMMA jury, Professor Ayoku Babu said they had a challenging task making choices from 406 entries, from 52 countries. The number was reviewed to 54, which was sent to the college of screeners.

Despite the few lapses observed, the jubilation from the crowd at the mention of every winner confirmed that the jury's choices were popular and acceptable to majority.

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