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Nollywood Has No Structure

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Jeta Amata, one of Nigeria’s popular film directors, who recently made an appearance on the CNN African Voices programme, tells EDWIN USOBOH about his movie, Black November, the movie industry and other issues

How do you feel coming from a theatre dynasty?

I feel great. It’s a family of people doing the arts. My grandfather was an icon. He co-wrote and starred in Africa’s first film. My father graduated with a first class, my grandfather graduated with a first class also. They were all theatre artistes but I wanted to be a pilot. When I was about six, I was intrigued by the fact that something could fly up there, and that some men could control it. I wanted to control the plane. So, I went into the sciences. Unlike other members of my family, I was going to be the first person to do something different from theatre arts. So, they were so proud of me, and I went on like that. Just when I was filling the form in my final year to get into the university, I just changed Physics to Literature, Chemistry to Commerce; and I didn’t tell anyone.

Why did you change to arts?

I realised that it was natural to me. I started as an actor. I am a trained actor. I studied theatre arts at Benue State University. I was a teenage presenter on Clapper Board TV before I went to the university. So, like they say, opportunity comes gradually. That opportunity came when I was younger and I took it and found the situation interesting.

What is your view on Nollywood?

It is one of the greatest phenomenons in the world. I’m saying this because Nollywood was inspired and built by us. When Kenneth Nnebue made the film Living in Bondage, it was not meant to be a film, it was meant to be a soap opera because at that time in the early 90s, the most watched thing on TV was soap opera. We realized the most important thing which other African countries don’t know- making films for our people’s consumption. If you can make a film that the people around you can enjoy, there is a possibility that the people in the entire state, country and world will also enjoy it. When you watch Nollywood films, you can easily relate the characters and storyline with people and things around you. Irrespective of what people are saying about the quality of our films…it might not have enough quality because of the little knowledge and technology, but despite that, we are able to make something. We started in the market and then we went to super DHF, mini-DVD and so on. Right now, we use the same equipment people use all over the world. Though I may be in the US right now aspiring to make bigger films, I still apply the rule of Nollywood in everything I do; that is why I still identify myself as part of Nollywood.

You still have a cordial relationship with your colleagues in Nollywood?

Of course, I am one of the first members of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). I was there the first day we started the Directors’ Guild of Nigeria, GDN. I was the seventh official member of DGN. I still have a cordial relationship with Nollywood. All my friends in Nigeria; the actors, producers and directors still talk to me on phone. When I was making the film, Black November, I brought Nollywood actors to Los Angeles to participate, and of course I speak with them all the time. I am still a bonafide member of the industry back in Nigeria. Let’s just say I am on leave here in the U.S.

What was it like working with Hollywood and Nollywood actors together on your set?

Actors or stars anywhere in the world all have huge egos; be it Angelina Jolie or Genevieve Nnaji, as long as you have a following, as long as you have fans, you will still have that chip on your shoulder. Not necessarily a negative chip anyway. Working with them in Hollywood was honestly as good as working with the stars in Nigeria. In fact, in certain parts, I actually have less stress working with the Nigerian stars than those in Hollywood. I will tell you that what people out here bring to the table is a bit of more professional because the Americans have been doing this for over a hundred years and Nigerians started doing it barely 20 years ago. I will say as good as the experience was in collaboration, there isn’t much difference. People are the same everywhere, there is not much difference. This isn’t the first time I am collaborating. When I made Amazing Grace, I shot part of it in the UK and the other parts in Nigeria. I made the Alexa Affair. I shot the entire film in Germany, 2004, and Inale which is about five years ago. I did a lot of it in Hollywood and the rest in Benue State with Bongos Ikwue.

Nollywood Has No Structure | P.M. NEWS Nigeria
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