One of the most talked about films in Africa recently is a Kenyan production, which premiered late last year, starring one of Nigeria’s screen sirens.
In the movie, Shattered, Rita Dominic plays the role a woman struggling to overcome the trauma caused by years of abuse.
This film, directed by Gilbert Lukalia, is one of the bets for Best Film at this year’s Africa Movie Academy Awards (Amaa), whose nominees will be announced on Saturday at a ceremony in Banjul, The Gambia.
Last year, Amaa received 27 entries from Kenya, the highest number from an individual country.
However, the only Kenyan film to win an award at these awards was Soul Boy, which scooped the Best Editing category.
Directed by Hawa Essuman and featuring a cast of first-time actors from Kibera, the story is set within the slums in the period after the post-election violence of 2007.
The previous year had seen Kenya stamp its authority on the continent’s film industry when Wanuri Kahiu’s From a Whisper walked away with five Amaa trophies including Best Film and Best Director.
It was that success that propelled the young filmmaker to international recognition, including appearances at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals and her subsequent sci-fi thriller Pumzi.
Set up in 2005 by Nigerian lawyer Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, the Amaas, also known as the African Oscars, recognise excellence among directors, actors and writers.
Films eligible for this year’s awards must have been produced between December 2010 and December last year.
The Amaa director of administration, Tony Anih, says the awards have grown from what started as a purely Nigerian affair.
“African movie makers have come to recognise Amaa as their own version of the Oscars, and that is reflected in the number of entries.”
The Academy received 328 entries, including feature films, short films, documentaries and animated films, from across the continent this year.
The awards jury will pick winners in 26 categories. While the awards themselves are held in Nigeria, the venue for the nomination night changes from country to country.
Last year, a host of mostly Nollywood stars, including Rita Dominic, the diminutive Aki and Paw Paw, Desmond Elliot and Ramsey Nouah were the star attractions as Nairobi played host to the nomination night for the seventh awards.
This year, the awards will take place in Lagos on 22 April and will be hosted by Haitian-born actor and model Jimmy Jean-Louis, who is no stranger to the continent’s film industry, having appeared in three African productions nominated for the Amaas last year.
Forest Whittaker and Danny Glover have been guests at previous editions of the awards.
There is a buzz in African film; the Nigerian film industry estimated to be worth $500 million (Sh42 billion), churns out more than 1,000 titles a year, and is the world’s largest producer of movies after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.
Mr Ogova Ondego, who represents the Amaa in Kenya, says there is every indication that the Nigerian filmmakers, both at home and in the diaspora, have woken up to the challenge from the rest of the continent.
“Nollywood is shedding the image of cheap films, melodramatic acting and story lines revolving around witchcraft and voodoo,” he says.
This was the first film industry in Africa to set up an actors guild and cinema culture has been revived with movie lovers once again heading to the theatres to watch new releases.
The trend is now for producers to bypass the mass market video CDs and take their films directly to the theatres.
Ogova says the entries from Nigeria at this year’s awards are likely to be high-quality and creative films of the kind we have seen in recent years from Kenya and South Africa’s “Joziwood”
Besides Shattered, there are two other strong Kenyan contenders for the coveted Best Film category at the Amaas, both directed by the prolific Bob Nyanja.
The Rugged Priest, based on the life of murdered Catholic priest John Anthony Kaiser, won in eight categories at the Kalasha Awards and was also the top film at last year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival.
Nyanja is also banking on the comedy Captain of Nakara, written by Cajetan Boy and featuring an all-star cast of Charles Bukeko (best known as Papa Shirandula), Joseph Olita (The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin) and Lenny Juma (Lara Croft Tomb Raider).
As the founder of the Amaa Awards, Anyiam Osigwe says every African country has its own style of making movies but the themes are the same.
“I have found that all over the continent we have similar stories — it is just how we tell them that differs.”