African Voice



By Ekine Stronghold 

1. You’ve been here before but for the benefit of our audience, please introduce yourself sir?

I am a player in the audiovisual media sector of Africa as a creative and cultural entrepreneur working variously as a journalist, critic, producer, distributor, mentor and event organiser & presenter. I also currently serve as the Eastern Africa Regional Director of Africa Movie Academy Awards.

2. Before the AMAA awards you where here to hold forth for AMAA, is there any part of that interview you would want to take back?

No, I stand by what I said. I have been to AMAA events in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Ghana and Burkina Faso. These have mainly been the Nomination events. And they are usually well organised. In my own country, we hosted 400 delegates in 2011 without any hitch. We hosted P-Square at a well organised and well attended concert at the up-market Carnivore grounds in Nairobi. It remains the talk of town. Just before heading to Bayelsa in April 2013, we were in Lilongwe, Malawi in March and the Nomination events—Film-in-a-Box training, Nomination Dinner, Nomination Concert with P-Square were hitch-free. So, one must ask oneself why the AMAA 2013 Gala in Yenagoa experienced logistical problems. Who was in control here? Who was in charge here? It certainly couldn’t have been the AMAA team that had organised the successful nomination events I have highlighted above.

3. Given the mixed reactions that greeted the awards, do you think that critics have been vindicated in any way? Or the AMVCA has gained more ground by garnering the bias of film practitioners?

I don’t think any critic has been vindicated on anything. I don’t think any rival initiative has gained any ground. If a poisonous snake enters your house, you don’t set your residence on fire; instead, you look for ways of dealing with the reptile then secure your home against any other threat in the future. I think that is the best way of dealing with any challenge in life. And AMAA is no exception.
Many of the filmmakers from Kenya who attended AMAA acknowledged—on record—that “AMAA is a noble idea”, “I would recommend filmmakers to submit to AMAA”, “AMAA gives you credibility in the field”, “AMAA is a good networking platform”, and “AMAA gives you exposure “.
The Republic of South Africa, through Paul Mashatile, her Minister for Arts and Culture, congratulated her actors and filmmakers for winning several awards at AMAA 2013. This was widely reported in the Press. South Africans won the Best Actress in a Lead Role (Florence Masebe in ELELWANI); Best Cinematography (UHLANGA, THE MARK); Best Production Design (ELELWANI); and Best Animation (ADVENTURE OF ZAMBEZIA) awards.

4. As an insider, please tell us where do you think your organization got it wrong? And who is to blame?

I am no insider when it comes to AMAA. I think the problem lies with logistics and where the event is held. AMAA must take charge of the transport and accommodation; the Bayelsa State Government can still host the event and should be acknowledged but AMAA, that brings international visitors to the state and is blamed for the sins of omission, can no longer leave anything to chance. Both CEO Peace Anyiam-Osigwe and Administrative Secretary Tony Anih are aware of this position. To the best of my knowledge and belief, AMAA cannot invite guests to Nigeria in order to mistreat them.

5. What you say about the sharp criticisms from the Kenyan press that flooded the internet?

It would be wrong to use the sensationalism of a single newspaper as being representative of the Kenyan media fraternity. It would also be a monstrous exaggeration to say that the newspaper’s report ‘flooded the internet’; it did not.
AMAA flew journalists from five different media organisations in Kenya to Nigeria. Only one media house filed disparaging reports on AMAA and on Nigeria. The criticism was ill advised and appeared to stem from the desire to settle personal scores more than seeking to provide constructive criticism. Only one newspaper attacked AMAA. The journalists doing so forgot that they had been invited to Nigeria—their return air tickets, hotel transfers and accommodation was fully paid—by AMAA. AMAA invited them to Nigeria because it had nothing to hide. They instead opted to abuse that hospitality. Those journalists were accommodated in one of the nicer hotels in Lagos. Is Ibis a run-of-the-mill hotel?

6. In your own opinion, did AMAA 2013 score any good point for Africa?

Yes, it did; otherwise on what basis was the South African Minister for Arts and culture congratulating his artists and filmmakers?
Pledging government’s ongoing support to the local film industry, Paul Mashatile said, “We congratulate our artists who have made us proud at this year’s AMA Awards. They have proven, once more, that South African film can hold its own against the best on our Continent and in the world. We will continue to support the local film industry with a view to ensuring that the South African story is told to audiences in our country, on the Continent and indeed in the whole world.”
Kenya won two awards. Burkina Faso won two awards. Ghana won one award. Mozambique won one award. Cameroon won an award. These are African countries, aren’t they?
Filmmakers from Kenya acknowledged that “AMAA is a noble idea”, “I would still recommend filmmakers to submit to AMAA”, “AMAA gives you some credibility in the field”, and “AMAA gives you exposure “. This imeans AMAA 2013 did Africa some good.

7. What is the way forward for the AMAA and what are we to expect from the next edition of the awards?

AMAA founder and CEO Anyiam-Osigwe says AMAA seeks to consolidate the gains of partnership made over the past nine years. That AMAA shall seek to strengthen the areas where AMAA has excelled and improve on those where AMAA has been found wanting. AMAA is the number one creative and cultural event on the African continent in terms of attendance; AMAA hosts guests from across Africa, the Diaspora and the world. No other event does this. AMAA’s Achilles Heel lies in the area of logistics; this comes from where and how the AMAA ceremony is hosted. AMAA is working on this problem with a view to eliminating it ahead of the 10th anniversary in 2014. AMAA is looking into employing logistical experts. My recommendation is that AMAA gets logistics and event organizing experts from South Africa, Kenya. AMAA doing well in all areas except in the logistics department. AMAA not only feels embarrassed but also apologises to guests, friends, partners and supporters across the world. The AMAA management team, according to Anyiam-Osigwe, is doing everything in their power to ensure that all AMAA events are hitch-free.

8. Any other thing you would like to say about the awards?

AMAA is a pan-African event that requires support, empathy and sympathy from all well meaning Africans. Criticising is easy, but one must put oneself in the shoes of they that are organizing something for their continent. When one isn’t in the soccer pitch, one knows all the right moves that would result into goals; till one finds oneself on the pitch. Journalists who haven’t organised an event need to be cognizant of this.
AMAA is helping set standards for cinema by identifying talent, recognizing and rewarding it. AMAA is training young people across Africa in the various sections of filmmaking. AMAA is collaborating with like-minded initiatives across Africa, the Diaspora and the world in the promotion of African cinema.

9. Let’s talk about Kenya and filmmaking; do you have a guild system in place?

Kenya is yet to organize herself into guilds and other structures to help turn her film sector into an industry. The country now has a film commission that is yet to find its proper place and its mandate defined.

10. Over the years what areas has experienced growth and what do you think was the catalyst?

Kenyans have since 2004 been making many more films than ever before; before then, the country made at least one film—on celluloid—in 10 years. But video is now making it easier for people to make moving images. It is cheaper and much more readily available than was the case with celluloid. The last film to be made on celluloid was FORGOTTEN. That was in 1999. Digital technology is the catalyst here. Even 6-year-old children are now making their own films. Some of the films made by these children—through the Lola Kenya Screen initiative whose director I am—competed for Best Documentary and Best Animation awards at AMAA in 2009.

11. Kenyan film had some good representation at the awards, how does that make you feel?

Kenya has been represented by stronger and many more films before; for instance in 2009 and 2010. The best year for Kenya was 2010 when Wanuri Kahiu’s From a Whisper picked six AMAA statuettes from Nigeria. Since then, Kenya isn’t really performing well on the international awards platform. We are plotting a come-back. The children and youth I work with through Lola Kenya Screen are plotting Kenya’s redemption. The adult mentors I work with are planning what to do. Independent filmmakers are devising winning strategies.

12. What are the challenges you face and what ways could be adopted to mitigate them?

Lack of production funding; lack of film policy; lack of film promotion and distribution network; and run away piracy level are some of the factors hindering the development of a film industry in Kenya. The government has to put its house in order by coming up with proper policies, creating an enabling environment, helping create distribution networks, helping cultivate and promote a movie-making and movie-consumption culture, setting up a film fund and recognizing and congratulating filmmakers who excel the way South Africa does. The day the government of Kenya will provide transport to accompany her filmmakers to international festivals and awards ceremonies, many more people will start making films. Filmmaking in Kenya is currently a labor of love. Any one establishing film initiatives—film festivals, film colleges, cinemas--in Kenya does it on his or her own. There is little incentive to nudge on one. We are forced to either raise resources from one’s own sources or look for partners across the borders of Kenya. It is tough.

13. What’s perception of the nollywood film industry?

Nollywood has demystified film-making in Kenya. Many are now investing their own resources in movie-making with a view to recouping them from sales. In the past, Kenyans waited for ‘donors’ to fund ‘developmental’ documentaries for them. Nollywood inspires Kenyans to make films. But Kenyans are insisting on her production values. They try to balance art and commerce.

14. Do you think that nollywood still dominates the African filmmaking terrain?
There is Nollywood almost everywhere on the African continent. People are watching Nollywood home videos on their DVD/VCR home entertainment systems and also on national television. Almost every TV network in Kenya screens Nollywood videos.

15. In what ways do you think a synergy would do both countries good?

Co-production and collaboration on resources, stories, actors, actresses would go a long way in opening up and expanding markets, growing economies and creating jobs for our people. And we don’t need to wait for governments to do things for us on this frontier. We the artists must start networking, collaborating and co-producing. For our own good. It is in our own best interest.

16. Tell us about ComMattersKenya, Lola Kenya Screen, and IPO-Eastern Africa; how do they impact on the Kenyan film industry and Africa at large?

ComMattersKenya is a consultancy firm that specializes in communications, media, information, literacy, arts, culture and development. It conducts research and produces print, audiovisual, multimedia and derivative products. It publishes ArtMatters.Info that specializes on creative and cultural issues in Africa and supports Lola Kenya Screen and IPO-Eastern Africa.
Lola Kenya Screen is an audiovisual media festival, skill-development programme and a marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa. It runs a weekly school outreach programme, fortnightly mobile cinema, monthly film forum, quarterly internship and annual film festivals.
Lola Kenya Screen—that was initially created under the ArtMatters.Info cultural journalism arm of ComMattersKenya in 2005—conducts skill-development and mentorship in creative writing, critical journalism, event organization & presentation, critical appreciation of creativity, filmmaking and media literacy; runs weekly school outreach programmes, monthly film forum, annual film festival and fortnightly neighborhood mobile cinema throughout the year; manages a creative and cultural platform on which to promote and market ideas, services and products related to children, youth, family, media, information and literacy.
Lola Kenya Screen has helped equip 154 children and youth from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe with operational skills in creative and cultural entrepreneurship since August 2006; 73 have been trained in filmmaking, and 24 in creative journalism, 11 in event planning & presentation, and 20 in critical appreciation of creativity in general and film in particular. Additionally, 26 youth have been equipped with the skills to make television drama and documentaries for children and youth.
So far, 20 short animated films, 12 documentaries, and five dramatic films have been made by children and youth through the annual Lola Kenya Screen film production workshops while many talents from the writing workshops have joined the mainstream mass media organizations in the eastern African region.

Besides empowering children and youth, Lola Kenya Screen also equips adults working with youngsters with pertinent skills. The movement also promotes the screen culture through the monthly Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum, school/community outreach mobile cinema and the annual Lola Kenya Screen film festival through which more than 1,950 best possible films from 102 countries drawn from all the six continents had been shown by August 15, 2012.
The monthly film forum is aimed at critiquing, encouraging and exploring ways of integrating film production in eastern Africa with other socio-cultural and economic sectors in order to come up with a vibrant film industry. LKSff meets every last Monday of the month at Goethe-Institut, Nairobi. LKSff is often one of the first places where new films can be seen and young talent spotted.
IPO-Eastern Africa, on the other hand, is a network of independent audiovisual media content producers, creative & cultural entrepreneurs, social transformers, media literacy educators, and festival organisers in eastern Africa or the region commonly referred to as Great Lakes or Horn of Africa that comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Congo-Kinshasa, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. We promote audiovisual media production as a tool for cultural expression and inter-cultural dialogue and specialise in developmental audiovisual media works, such as on children, youth, gender, gender-mainstreaming, agriculture, and climate change. This network came about through the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2009. A work plan was developed and we are working towards implementing it, subject to availability of resources.
17. Anything you want to say that I have not asked you?

It is important for journalists in Africa—especially those who simply report without ever having organized an event—to learn how to appreciate and encourage African initiatives instead of seeking to destroy them. It calls for great courage for anyone to found, organize and present initiatives; we must seek to encourage our own home-grown initiatives to do even better for the good of Africa instead of just looking for weaknesses with which to bring them down. No one who has invested heavily in an organization plans to fail or to mistreat one’s guests, friends or partners. Empathy and sympathy are key. I am not saying that one shouldn’t be critical, no. My only problem is over those who criticize to destroy rather than build. 

18. Last words?

I thank Nollywood TV for the support it is giving to moving images, to Africa and to Africans. Yours is a noble service that we must not just acknowledge but must also support.
We started Lola Kenya Screen in 2005 to mentor children and youth in entrepreneurship and inculcate in them--the generation of today and tomorrow--new, sensitive and empathetic values to enable them part and pacel of Africa's creative and cultural sector; to think not of themselves as 'us' versus 'them'. That's why we equip them with the skills to understand, conceive, create, promote, distribute and consume high value content.
While our cultural journalism is aimed at uplifting the standards of creative and cultural journalism in eastern Africa, the filmmaking programme equips them with the skills to conceive and create films in Africa.
Critical appreciation inculcates in these 'agents of change' (why we specifically chose children and youth nstead of adults!) the skills with which to critically appreciate and appraise creativity in general and moving images in particular.
Programme Organisation & Presentation (MC) empowers children and youth with the skills to plan and present events as professionals.
Media literacy equips our participants with the pertinent skills to understand the opportunities and threats inherent in modern mass media and with possible mitigation against the shortcomings through informed participation.
Through the above, we are helping create a generation with sympathetic, empathetic and sensitive values to the creative and cultural sector of Africa. This new generation is unlikely to bash any initiative because they themselves have been trained as creative and cultural practitioners with vast knowledge on what it takes to conceive, create, promote and serve society. Though the participant may eventually choose to teach, make films, report as journalists, organise events or judge creativity after going through all our skill-development programmes, it is unlikel you will get a person so ignorant as to demand almost the impossible from fellow creatives as some of today's reporters do. They think they make a name by merely criticising and destroying initiatives they least understand. Hey, man. We at Lola Kenya Screen are shaping our own future through the inculcation of new values in creatives. Our own children and youth. We can't afford otherwise. Having understood and appreciated the sacrifices made in an evolving sector like ours, such creatives are expected to provide constructive criticism that builds and not destroys people and/or their initiatives.

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