Amaka Igwe : In praise of a teacher and a friend

Sometime in March 2007, a young man approached one of the leading lights of film-making and television drama productions in Nigeria and asked for assistance in order for him to go to a film school in London, England. This most-respected filmmaker paused and asked the young man: ‘When you are done with your film studies, where do you hope to practice?‘ The young man answered: ‘I want to practice in Nigeria.‘ The filmmaker thought for a while and said: ‘Would you consider letting me train you first, before you go film abroad, learn how things are done here? You can go to film school afterwards. Think about it and get back to me.‘ That filmmaker was the creator of Checkmate and Fuji House of Commotion; the writer and director of Rattlesnake, Violated and Forever.
hat young man was me. I didn’t know it at that time, but when I went back to her about a week later and accepted her offer, I was making one of the best decisions in my life.

Any filmmaker worth his salt will know that apprenticeship is the best thing that can happen to any aspiring filmmaker. The opportunity to learn from someone who has had hands-on experience is invaluable. While film schools can be great, depending of what aspect of filmmaking, the realities of filmmaking are met on the set, not in classes. Prior to my conversion to film, I had been an actor and director in the theatre for about ten years, and I had taught literature in a university for three years. In parts, these endeavours had been fulfilling, yet, there was something missing.

I had always seen in pictures. Photography had been an integral part of my life, not as someone who loved to stand in front of a camera but as someone who wondered how pictures were taken. I had also been brought up in a home where watching films was a daily ritual. My father was a film buff. I had therefore decided that to get behind the magic of pictures, I had to become a filmmaker, and to be a filmmaker, I had to go to film school. I did eventually go to Raindance Academy in 2008, but that was after eleven months of practical work with Amaka Igwe.

Today the federal government is honouring Amaka Igwe with an MFR. It is a well-deserved honour, one that she is eminently qualified for. The body of work she has produced in her twenty-two years as a major player in the entertainment industry speak for itself. You will travel far to find a more respected writer, director and producer in Nollywood, in spite of the fact that she has released less than ten films in her career so far.

Her television drama classics like Checkmate and Fuji House of Commotion have spawn stars for over two decades. Some of the most respected actors in Nigeria today, people like Richard Mofe-Damijo, Ego Boyo, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Kunle Bamtefa, Ngozi Nwosu, the late Toun Oni, Sola Onayiga, John Njamah, Jude Ororha and many more made their names from her productions. Great as all of this may be, Amaka Igwe biggest contribution to the development of the creative industries in Nigeria goes beyond the films she has made or the actors her works have made famous. Her greatest contributions, perhaps, remains her willingness to share all that she knows about filmmaking with anyone interested.

In 2007, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) gave Amaka Igwe a licence to run a vocational institution for the film and media studies. This was done in recognition of her personal efforts at training Nollywood practitioners in the diverse areas of filmmaking, something she had been doing since 1997 at a personal cost. In 2008 the Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies was born and she handed it over to me to run, staying in the background and guiding my hands.

In 2009, alongside Highbury College, Portsmouth UK we won a bid for the British Council Education Partnerships in Africa (EPA) project and gave, for free, eighty Nigerians the skills needed to make radio documentary packages.

Some of those trained under that project have gone on to become screenwriters and directors. In the past one year, the centre has trained over sixty young filmmakers in screenwriting, directing and producing. All these young filmmakers have had the opportunity to make short films, with equipment and post-production facilities given to them free by Amaka Igwe Studios. In a few weeks from now, we will premiere ‘Big Daddy‘, a short film on rape. This short film, written and directed by this writer, was only possible because we got immense support from Amaka Igwe. I like to sit in class at the beginning of a new workshop at the Centre for Excellence in film and Media Studies.

At the beginning of every class, she would, unfailingly, utter these words: ‘Ask me anything, don’t be shy and don’t be intimidated. I will teach you everything I know so you can add to what you already know and be better than me.‘ She uttered these same words to me five years ago and she has been true to the last word. Therein lies the true greatness of Amaka Igwe: her selflessness; her willingness to make others better, her conviction that knowledge is best shared. This is really why the federal government is honouring her. On behalf of all those you continue to inspire; on behalf of all your students; on behalf of those whose careers you have helped to nurture, THANK YOU!

Chris Ihidero is a Lagos-based writer and filmmaker…Courtesy thenetng/tribune

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