Peace Anyiam-Osigwe is the founder of the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), which is run through the African Film Academy. In this exclusive interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, she said that beyond the yearly glamorous award events organised by AMAA, it does a lot of trainings for old and young practitioners across Africa. She also spoke on the huge opportunity waiting to be tapped in the film industry; why governments at all levels must show more interest in the creative industry, among other issues in the sector. Excerpts:
Could you please speak briefly about the activities of AMAA beyond the glamourous awards that hold every year? Are there some other engagements and roles that AMAA undertakes or plays (as the case may be), and how involved is it in the development of film industry in Nigeria, nay, Africa?
AMAA is 15 years this year. It was set up to celebrate film makers in Africa and also train people across Africa. AMAA has been training for the past 14 years. We came up with three weeks’ intensive programme which is not just training in films but also the antecedents of films – everything that has to do with films. About 10 days of in-house training, which includes you actually listening to workshops; you actually coming up with your scripts, and learning the basic rudiments and you guys forming your little groups afterwards. You then shoot a short film or you practise what you have learnt in the training. So, across Africa over the past 14 years, we have done training for approximately ten thousand (10,000) students. Last year, we were in Rwanda; we worked with the film school of Cuba; we trained about 100 film makers in documentary which is very important for Rwanda because of their history. We have some of the best teachers coming from Cuba, in Rwanda.This year, we decided that part of the things we are going to do on our 15th year– ‘Road to AMAA’- is to do an event in Enugu which we called ‘The Home Coming’. It wasn’t me that gave that title; it was actually some of the film makers in the South East that said, ‘O, you have not done anything here, you are from here; we’re going to call it the home coming. It was actually Osita Okeke, Ossyoffasson – the marketer that suggested it and impressed it on me and I agreed with the suggestion. We brought a gentleman from New York, Jim Jermanok, who tutored them on how to passionately tell your story and also the quality and how to get it to other film making platforms across the world. He made them to understand that a good story would sell anywhere, but then you shouldn’t lose the soul of what you are telling which is our own story. We don’t have to lose our stories.
I think that’s what people tend to forget. You shouldn’t lose what the essence of Nollywood was, which is our own stories in our own way. The difference is that we should make it technically right, professionally done; but we shouldn’t lose the story. We should be able to impart the knowledge of our history; our culture to everybody and make it in a way that they will feel comfortable watching it.But don’t expect it to be totally accepted; and that’s why we continue telling people our stories. Don’t make any apologies for telling your stories! Now, if you understand that, we will not make any apology for telling our stories; the only apology I can make is when we don’t do it properly.
So, Jim came and we had over 500 students to learn from him. For two days, nine (9) hours daily, it was amazing seeing the students sit there; the need to consume as much information as possible, for me was amazing. I discovered that there is void of information in the South East.There’s so much activity going on in the film industry there; but they don’t really know. I discovered that there are about four, five film making cultures going on in one country – what is happening in Lagos is totally different; what’s happening in Kano; in Asaba, South East and South–South are all totally different. This is me speaking to businesses and governments in South East and South-South, I don’t think they get it. To be honest with you, I don’t think the governor of Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Imo (well, Imo is just coming in) – the other two-term governors, I don’t think they get the GDP that is going on there because it is undocumented.
There’s a lot of money there but these people seem unaware. While I was in Enugu and Asaba, almost 200 productions were going on almost at the same time on an average budget of N2.5million to N15million each production.You have students in Nsukka doing their own; they get together, they may raise N1million, do their production and put on YouTube or they sell to African Magic, and this is thriving. Now, there’s a lot of passion in that industry. I met a young guy who did animation, I can’t believe what he is doing there. People doing emotion graphics, and I am like, where is the support? There isn’t anybody to help.
The people in charge of culture and tourism are not embracing them. These are the issues I see and I am wondering, you want to increase the GDP? You already have a lot of GDP going on, harness it; you have stars coming out of the industry. You have a lot of talents that need encouragement.Some older actors are doing their best to assist the younger ones, on their own individual capacities, but what I see is that until we can harness the global picture of film industry in Nigeria; that is from the creative industry – because I met fashion designers, and everybody doing different things, and what I just felt was that there’s a vacuum that nobody is trying to harness. Yes, the CBN has come up with this N200 billion loan; but my question is, did they actually understand how to get this money to these people?You coming up with a loan that says, do you have a collateral?
Do you also have 30 percent equity? The average film maker may not be able to do that. So, are you really trying to help that film maker in that area or is another, ‘let just say we are doing something’? There’s got to be an understanding of the industry. If you say to a film maker, your IP (Intellectual Property) is your collateral, fine; or you bring equity of 20 to 30 percent fine; but collateral and equity will not work. There are some of us that can do collateral; but if you want to help to push this industry forward, you cannot do collateral for a lot of people in the industry. And that’s one of the things we did in Enugu; even right now we are actually doing a workshop for them; a financial clinic to help those who want to access the loans to basically understand; do their business plan; do the structure or whatever they have to put it together.That’s actually what we are working on; on how do they raise the capital; and not just the CBN’s; the grants overseas; the grants for film makers.Again, the lack of structure makes it very difficult for them as film makers to get the finances they need to make the quality films they should be making. We are trying to say to them, that ‘Ok, this is what you can do; you can put this structure, write your synopsis and see if you can raise grants, and also if you might also get private equity participation and work on it’.
This is the kind of background what people don’t see apart from the main AMAA we do. People tend to see the brand as, ‘O, this glamorous event that they do once a year’, but we’re still working year in, year out. The same thing we are doing here, we do in Rwanda; we do in the Gambia; Malawi. We do training across Africa; even if it is little workshop of 10 people; five people. If we charge students to do some of the stuff like in Enugu, they can’t afford it. If you look at the cost of bringing the resource persons on Business Class, and other expenses, you find out, they can’t afford it; so, you must have to look for support from elsewhere to be able to impart the knowledge to these people.
What level of assistance do you think the industry needs to make the desired mark in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general?
What I discovered is that there’s a need, constant need for not just government, because it can’t all be government, for private enterprises to work hand-in-hand with the creative sector. Secondly, there should be an encouragement for tax incentives for film makers. Something like tax rebate is necessary. Even the Cinema tax is killing. A film maker makes money at the cinema – between the cinema and the tax office, he is losing almost 60 to 70 percent of the income before getting anything. May be, a film makes N100 million, in the cinema; divide it into three, film maker is only going to come out with only 30 percent. So, taxes must be looked at for the industry to generate reasonable income. Customs, piracy, etc are the problems the new government really needs to look into in real term, not just saying it, if you want to help increase your GDP; if you want to help this industry; if you want to take the kids off the street; instead of wasting time and saying you are building universities, skills acquisition is the way to go for a lot of young people; both the boys and young women in the South East are interested in the creative industry.
They are not really interested in being lawyers and doctors any more. Yes, we need lawyers and doctors, but, like I explained to film makers in Enugu, you need doctors on set, first aiders; if there’s an accident, who will make sure that people are taken care of; in fact, the creative industry needs every skill set – you need the lawyer to help with the contracts; accountants to help in the budgets, payments and finances; you need the dressmaker; the make-up artists; a doctor to handle crisis, etc. If, for instance, South East governors are saying they have issues with insecurity; well; if you don’t create jobs, there’s no miracle; these kids are doing nothing; it is so bad in the South East that many young people cannot afford N10,000 (ten thousand and naira) for their own part of the registration; then even the governors are finding it hard to support these kids. And I am wondering, how do you keep them away from crime? You are making them feel that by stealing or kidnapping they are more likely to get a quick return; but if you nurture their creative abilities, you will be helping them because creativity also give them the chance to also make sure that they make a better and proper living without going into crime; they will not only help themselves, they will also be helping other people. An average film set has, may be, 30 people working on it. If you imagine that, how do you bring in Diaspora money if the films are not good enough? You can structure even making the embassies working to make sure that these films are shown and they are paid for, for people to come and watch them. It will make sure that the DVD market which everybody keeps on assuming is dead, is not dead actually. But the people in the South East are very dependent on their DVD market, and they have ways of making sure that their DVD sells; and you still have some films doing well on DVD. And where do these DVDs go? East Africa, South Africa, Middle Africa, Congo, Brazil, and other places. Also, most of the time, they throw it onto Youtube to monetise it based on people who watch.
Now, you have identified some of the factors militating against the youth in society, part of which is lack of funding for them to pursue their dreams. But experience has shown that many youths today are not willing to acquire skills that will sustain them in life. They want quick money. They want to ride okada that gives them daily income even though small and many want to be rich without laying a good foundation for it. What would you say about this in relation to your dream of seeing many youths come into the industry?
I want to tell all the youth, you have to be passionate about whatever you want to learn and you have to decide if you are just looking at making money, like you said, or if you are actually looking for a career; they are two different things. When you are just looking at making money; you don’t care about learning; you are just hearing about figures and then you are just running inside. So, the thing is, decide what you want to be. There are many ways of identifying who are actually film makers that want to learn.Let me give you an example. When I came back from the South East workshop, I set up a WhatsApp group; you know the WhatsApp group can only have (200) hundred and something and here, I have five hundred students. I am not really someone that has a lot of time; but I have a group for Rwanda; for Malawi and I read what they are saying, and when I see some of them making some real sense. Then I will go on and say, ‘are you a film maker?’
Or they put up promos or chips of their films and you advise. You will know those that are really interested in interaction, and there are ones that will delete themselves immediately from the group because they didn’t like the criticism, because they didn’t want to hear the truth. But that’s the point. I want to identify that even if it is one hundred (100) of them that truly want to work to make this industry better, they will. And that’s what I have always tried to do. It is not for government to throw money at people. You see, sometimes, what happens in Nigeria is that, we like hype; we don’t like sustainability.Sometimes, even though Peace is going to come out to tell you the truth that you should hear; you should hear it.You may not want to hear that truth as it is; you may want to go for the people who would advise you; who you would have seen that are making a lot of hype about themselves on what they do; most people don’t really know that we have trained over 10,000 (ten thousand) youths. I don’t put everything I do out there. Not just in Nigeria. We have consistently, for the last 14 years, gone around Africa, training. The former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, always said then that AMAA helped to open up the film industry in Malawi. Even in South Africa, which is a very developed economy; within the communities of the black film makers that are not really in the main towns, we also impacted them. It was like teaching them out of the box because sometimes, the structured way of learning film is not affordable to even the average South African film maker.
So, from 2006 till date, we have been on the road, training; training in the environments, not necessarily classrooms. So, for identification, look out for their passion; don’t just make it available to the people that just came out from the streets. There’s a minimum understanding of what you should do, and like I have always told people, you have to have a minimum of competence- being able to read, write, understand (comprehend). It is sad that we still have some cinematographers that can’t even read.Some of the cameras coming out now are very technical. We still have editors that do not even understand the dynamics of being proper editors. These are things that people should expect and even those that fought against the Motion Picture Practitioners Council that we have been trying to get, they say, ‘O, you are trying to stop people from entering the industry!’ No; it is a voluntary thing. The Motion Picture Practitioners Council is a voluntary thing. You are not going to be forced to go and enter; just like in America and UK; you are not forced to enter; you can operate outside of it. But it would be important to say, Ok, within this association, you would know thatthese people have received the basic level of professionalism.This is so, that somebody will not come and say,‘this film maker messed up my film’.
The ethics of the profession and the right conduct are the things we emphasise on. Even when government is working in this industry, it should ask basic questions to understand the concept of what we are trying to do.Make sure that they have the fundamental knowledge, just the foundation and the passion for what they are going to do. So, when you are saying that a lot of them don’t want to learn; right now, anybody can buy an Okada and ride; that’s the problem. Nobody is actually looking at the quality of the Okada they are riding and the riders themselves. When, for instance, you even meet some of the Okada riders and say, ‘where is that road?’ And they will tell you, ‘I don’t know!’ But before you become a taxi driver in England, you take a test of knowing where you are going. It is not like that here. It is not just only in the film industry that it is important for people to know what they are doing. There is the need to look at our demographies.
There is an essential need to also look at the headspace of people in charge of the work, the labour force, and the laws of education and everything and just start to realise that you just have to make it as simple as it should be; so that if you want to be an Okada rider, you have this basic requirement. Even if you want to work as a house help or looking after the elderly in England or in America, you must take basic lessons. You can’t just wake up and say, ‘I am going to be an assistant’ No; you will get that basic training – how to lift the old; how to put them down on the bed – those basic things are expected because you can’t expect people that don’t know this basis to just go in. So, in the film industry also, professionalism has to come in, but first of all, identify the passion; identify the basis of being able to read and right. Do they actually understand what it means to be a film maker? Do they realise that it’s like Genesis to Revelation? It is not just like, you wake up and carry camera. No.
You talked about the GDP and the inability of some state governments to understand the huge role the film industry can play in their economy. The Goodluck Jonathan administration understood the importance of the industry; and I understand that some amount of money was released for practitioners to access to help their career. What happened to that fund? Are there some people who have benefitted, and what is delaying others from taking advantage of it?
You are right. President Goodluck did understand the industry, probably because he had worked with me actually from the beginning of AMAA in Bayelsa. He was a deputy governor when we started AMAA in Bayelsa. He was actually very hands-on during that period in the process of setting AMAA up in Bayelsa. He was like an oversight for the late DSP Alamieyeseigha; then he became governor and he tried to encourage the film industry but again, what is said at the top needs to down line properly and broken down where it is understood. There have been several interventions to the Nigerian film industry; but it hasn’t actually worked out the way it was supposed to; based on the industry itself. Some people have issues with how the money was disbursed and I do as well.You see, when we wrote that document and president Goodluck was aware; it was actually to look at distribution first; followed by capacity building; then followed by production.Finding money to do your film has never been a problem in Nollywood; let’s never make that mistake.
With or without interventions, films are going on. But there is a problem that is major in Nollywood, which is distribution.We felt that this money; I think it was N3billion; majority of it should be brought out to look at distribution; more cinemas, online platforms as well as how to get DVDs, VCDs, etc. out there, even if it means having shopping malls that sell these things.That was the key. We felt, even if nothing, 774 local governments in the country, let’s get cinemas out there. However, they started the battle of Nollywood – ‘no, it should be production; no,it should be this; no, it should be that.’ So, I was working with Okonjo-Iweala and at the same time I was doing a lot of work for Joyce Banda in Malawi; so, we ended up having the late AmakaIgwe work on it. Somehow, it shifted. It became capacity building first; which took money and saidthey went to India; they went to California, to do this, and to do that, and that money went that way. Have I seen any impact of capacity building to the industry? Personally, I am watching. Then, the next thing, they released production grant. A lot of people did not use the production money to do what it was supposed to do.
That money was used for other things and not production. And when this new government came in, the remaining money that was there, Kemi Adeosun was pushed to release some money on distribution. We have still not seen the impact.The point is, structured distribution needs to take place. Bank of Industry (BoI) has also come up with their own funding; and a lot of films have not been able to recoup their money. That still brings us back to the same problem – distribution. There is something wrong in the whole distribution chain. The BoI own was a loan; and the other was a grant. None of them has really solved the problem of Nollywood. So, the sooner we look at the cinema structure; VCD, DVD structure, the better for us, so that we don’t totally lose out of that. But you see, the value chain is for all creatives. You look at the music industry as well; you find out that the streaming from musical artistes from Nigeria alone where they should make their income is not coming from here. You have countries in East Africa, probably spending more on our content than we do. Some countries like Brazil, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya; Uganda – people watching these things from these places are more than they are there. I remember a year we did viewers’ choice– I think it was in 2010 with ‘Jennifer’s Dairy’ when Funke Akindele won on AMAA – most of her votes came from Kenya. So, it shows you how much outsiders watch our films.
Can you hazard the worth of film industry in Nigeria?
It is really difficult, because everybody is filming one thing or the other. But let’s just say, on an average, on a weekly basis, with people doing films all over the country – even if you take an average of N2.5 million multiply into, say, 200 series, film, scripts, etc that are always going on, on a weekly basis; that will just give you an idea. So, even if it is 10, it is already N25 million. So, let just say, N250million to N500 million in terms of production going on all around; and then you have big productions that are going on from a film house; and many other places – films that are being done for N100 or N200 million out there, at the same time; I don’t think that films made by Nigerian film makers across the whole of Nigeria is anything less than N500 to N600 million a month, in production.
You are talking about production alone. You are not talking about the consumption. Money spent on these films by consumers?
At the moment, we are only capturing the consumers on cinema; which is why they are saying, ‘ok, we made N3billion plus on cinema last year’. What did African Magic pay for content last year? What did Iroko, Rock TV pay for content last year? What did Star Times pay for content last year? What did other TV stations pay for content last year? What was other amount of money paid by Netflix and the other TV stations across Africa last year? If you pull it together that will tell you what is going on. What I am saying is the unseen figures. African Magic spent almost a billion naira on ‘Battle Ground’; I am not totally sure about the amount. They also did ‘Tinsel’; they did like seven series last year. They still have ‘Sons of the Caliphate’ and a number of others. They are actually one of the heaviest investors on TV. You have them working non-stop. By the time you add all these things together, plus the fact that they are buying contents; they are buying series for showcase: for African Magic Igbo; African Magic Yoruba; African Magic Hausa. Star Times has the same thing. So, content is key. And there are people who are not even going on any of these and just throwing everything they have…you have Emmanuella; they have about 1.4million subscribers on YouTube; how much is she making? How much is she worth?There are other channels like that that are just kids. So, for me, people who don’t want to see it, will never see it. But if you actually have somebody that understands the business of films and business of the creative industry, they would know why California doesn’t joke with the creatives. They will know why India doesn’t joke with creatives; they will know why China doesn’t joke with creatives. It keeps the economy thriving. They have understood both the music and movie industry; we just haven’t.
You talked about culture and tourism. Part of the criticism that trail the movie industry in Nigeria is that producers copy a lot from other countries and that the films are not original. They compare the likes of ‘Living in Bondage’ with what is coming out today and believe today’s movies do not have elements of our culture in them. what is your take here?
I think sometimes, it is about what the producers think that the consumers/viewers want. But at the moment I will tell you that there is a re-thinking going on of what actually is the sole of Nollywood and what can come out.Yes, you want to make the films that travel the world, but like I said, don’t lose the essence of your story.Nollywood is where it is because people have stopped research. People just think,‘this is what people want to see’. No.The figures this year at the cinemas is not as beautiful as it has been before. So, you need to find out, what are the things you audience want to see; that’s the thing we had with the old Nollywood.For me, in Nigeria, only about 10 percent of the people live in the so-called upper and middle class; the remaining 90 percent are the real people, and these real people cannot afford N2,000 (two thousand naira) to go watch a movie; some of these stories you people are telling, they are not understanding it; so they are still consuming the old Nollywood being done by some of the Yoruba film makers that are putting it on African Magic Yoruba and then also selling on their DVD’s quietly; the Asaba film makers that are also making for their own market; the Kannywood are also making for their own market; the Edo people are also making for their own market; because those people exist and they are not going to cinema. So, don’t forget that there seems to be two or three layers of film-making going on. I said to a film maker the other day in Enugu-why is your film like this? He said, ‘that’s what our people want’. I was shocked; but he said,‘come with me’. We went to the market and I saw what people were consuming.You know you can have these beautiful Lagos posters, but those posters are not going to work in South East.There is a market for everything, but you just have to find out what the people want in your locality.Why is it working for some people and why is it not working for others? And your location is very key in what you bring out. I think that is the thing that people should understand. People should not forget the core audience of the Nollywood. The cinemas should also not forget the 90 percent of the 90 percent.
From where we are now in the development of Nollywood, where do you hope to see the film industry in the next ten years?
I would love to see more cinemas around the country; in localities, not glamourised cinemas but like you find in India and China where normal people, everyday people can go watch films.I would like to see a lot of work being done on piracy. You can’t eradicate piracy but you can minimise it. Look at a way,a functional way for DVDs to also be sold;to understand the DVD value chain, I would like to see that happen. You know, DVD will eventually be phased out once the data become cheaper based on what we can afford. Once the income of an average African goes up and the data is more affordable, it will work. But right now, based on the income of an average African, you cannot stream data to watch films and still be able to pay your children’s school fees and do other things. These are the issues.