Friday, March 1, 2013

Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards Is a 'Renaissance' Moment

Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards Is a 'Renaissance' Moment

~ By Femi Odugbemi

The Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) will take place on the 9th of March 2013 with lots of pomp and pageantry. It will be an important and magical moment in the development of the content industries for Africa. If there is something I am passionate about as a Content Producer and a former President of an Industry body, it is the fact that attention to shaping the "stories" of the African experience, growing its audiences and supporting the development of our content and creative industries will be how Africa wins the future. Today many of Africa's economies are failing, but I believe strongly that the emerging creative thrust of Africa holds a lot of hope for the social rejuvenation and economic rise of the Continent. The AMVCA will highlight for the world in a spectacular way all the works and workers that are driving the economy of Africa into its new future.

For many years, Africa has struggled with the irony of its "wealth"; which is almost entirely concentrated under the ground. The irony being that Africa's wealth under the ground hasn’t translated to wealth above the ground. Many nations of the world have built and advanced their societies on the wealth of resources found in Africa, yet, the continent is acutely challenged with underdevelopment, poverty, disease and wars, with a visible decline in its share of World trade over the years. But there is a growing realization that economic competitiveness is no longer largely dependent on natural resources. Economic viability and wealth distribution order of the World are evolving on new grounds that are not predicated on wealth under the ground. Given current economic realities in the World, it is increasingly difficult for any country or continent to compete entirely based on natural resources.

Economic competitive gaps in the world now depend on exploiting human capabilities, rather than natural resources. The industrial age is giving way to a knowledge economy and Africa is rising to the challenge of this new economic order in its own unique creative way. Africa is pressing its advantage in storytelling, culture, and creativity. Chinua Achebe is quoted to have described Man as "a story making animal. He rarely passes up an opportunity to accompany his works and experiences with matching stories…" it is clear from many indications that Africa's entry/contribution in the knowledge economy might be through storytelling, especially at a time that the continent is economically challenged from many fronts; this is even more valid considering that Africa has a heritage of storytelling that reaches way back into pristine times. African history and culture have been passed on through oral tradition that is largely dependent on story telling, we have created governments by story telling, we live and breathe story telling.

With the exponential increase in technology development, Africa has a greater opportunity to exploit its unique advantage in storytelling. Until now, the cost of technology has not been to the advantage of Africa, but with the current explosion in technological development Africa is by providence being positioned to exploit the possibilities of technology for the purpose of its innate capabilities - storytelling. The impact of this technological explosion is already evident in the creative industry in Africa; the result of that is what we see with Nollywood. The fact that you don’t need to have all the big machines and huge capital to tell your story or to access an audience has expanded the frontiers of the film industry in Nigeria, and indeed in Africa. It is, therefore, not a surprise that among those of African ancestry, across waters and across borders, Nollywood is not an isolated incident in Nigeria; it is a phenomenon that is identifiable wherever the African experience exists.

In the last 20 years, Nollywood has expanded, if not reinvented, the art of storytelling as we know it in Africa. Our fathers told their stories (folktales) to a small gathering of generations of their family, sitting in circles on wooden stools in their compound they passed on great stories to the eager minds of the young ones. Stories that embedded in them, values that have kept Africa together through wars, colonialism, economic deprivation, and unsettling moments that have challenged our existence to its roots. The values in those stories have kept hope in the hearts of Africans, constantly reminding us that there is a better day, in spite of the oddities of colonialism and despondent leadership, the African spirit stands undeterred. It explains why you will find that it is difficult to find an African that is committing suicide; we always think tomorrow is another day.

Nollywood has capitalized on the inherent potential of African stories to penetrate individual cultures on the continent, breaking down colonial structures that keep us apart. It has opened new opportunities for Africans, regardless of their geographical distance, to reconnect and find an appeal in the common values taught to us in our stories. This, to my thinking, is a singular success of the film industry in Nigeria. Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora, now have a sense of connection that speaks to the values that are peculiar to them and cannot be replicated in American, Indian, or Chinese movies.

Beyond this, African films have become the backdrop of our history in a time when the global information order has not been to our advantage. We have been able to demonstrate in our movies that our lifestyles are different, our ways of seeing the world are different, our spirituality is different and we have passed that on even as we migrated to cultures that are foreign to ours. Interestingly, these films are fast becoming a cogent reference for our identity as we move into new worlds. We have used these films to teach our children, and expand our capacity to recognize ourselves as Africans.

The Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards comes at a time when it is most important to take the African storytelling experience to a new level of reckoning and celebration. But above all it presents a prime opportunity for the voice of the large community of content consumers in Africa to be heard.


Femi Odugbemi is a Filmmaker and Executive Director of the IRepresent International Documentary Film Festival.

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