I always want to be the best – Amaka Igwe
WHOEVER does not know Amaka Igwe (nee Isaac Ene) one-on-one must have at least either watched or heard about some of her exceptional works like Checkmate (I still miss it), Rattlesnake, Violated and Forever. Such is the stuff that this bespectacled OAU, Ile-lfe (Osun State) trained mother of three (Ruby, Charles Jnr and her latest) who hails from the coal city of Enugu, but is married to an Arondizuogu (Imo State) indigene, Charles, is made of.
Deservedly nicknamed the Iron Lady by members of the fourth estate of the realm, Amaka, still savouring and basking in what is known in Igbo tradition as Omugwo (weeks or months after delivery and during which the woman is expected to be pampered for a job well done) never wavered in granting us audience. Inside her Salvation Road, off Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos residence, the 36 year-old (born on January 2,1963) spoke with AZUH ARINZE. But not without the intermittent cries of her new born baby boy and also “grin-grin” from her telephone set interfering. Hear what Amaka has to say…
Congratulations on your successful delivery and also the victory of Forever and To Live Again at the REEL Awards.
How do you feel with all these successes?
I thank God because everyday of my life is a blessing and a challenge. Haying the baby was very painful. Winning the awards was also a pain. Shooting Rattlesnake III was also a pain. I thank God for everything. I give Him all the glory.
How does it feel having one’s work sweeping majority of the awards at REEL?
The sweetest part was that all the artistes won awards. All of them were my actors, people that I directed; very, very good professionals. Not gate crashers. They really tripped me.
What was the experience like inside the labour room?
You won’t understand. Having a baby, going into labour is painful, very, very painful. From the pregnancy, the nausea, etc., the pain was something else. I’m not sure men can experience it. It’s better imagined than told and I thank God for crowning our efforts with success.
Has the baby been christened?
Not really. But so far, he has over ten names from different people. Some of these names are Chimereiheukwu (God has done a great thing), Ekenemchukwu (I thank God), Charles, David, Ugonnaya (The pride of his father), Otito (Praise), Lucky, Chukwuebuka (God is great)…
How do you see motherhood now and also how are you coping with the first two children, Ruby and her little brother, Charles?
Right now, I’m enjoying because my mum is around. She is doing a yeoman’s job and that’s what is fantastic about the African tradition. She takes care of the baby so that I can sleep, give you an interview (general laugher) and also heal inside. For now, she is not threatening to go and what that means is that I will soon go back to work again.
Will you allow any of your children to act?
Yes. If they want to. Ruby was in Forever as one of Urenma’s daughters. She is already keen, she goes to locations with me and I have no doubt that she initially flirts with acting, but I will want them to experience other aspects of their lives first. And not just joining me because I am here.
A lot of us were surprised that you travelled to Enugu to shoot Rattlesnake III when you were almost due to put to bed. Why did you take such a risk?
The movie was actually meant to be shot for September. Then it was shifted to January. Meanwhile, the lead character, Okey Igwe, had his own agenda and everything was already on the ground. So, it now became something I had to do. I had postponed it enough and thought that I could do it. Not that I didn’t do a good job because of that, it’s just that my other jobs were a little easier compared to this one which was more tedious.
What was the experience really like for you callings shots with a swollen tummy?
It was tedious because I was due to have my baby then. And to have to do my own work, my own way, being meticulous and also being careful not to hurt the baby, it was tedious. All the wahala, logistic, transport and artistes’ wahala compounded everything. Again, I was working under a particular time because the lead character had just a 6-week leave. From his arrival to rehearsal, there was a lot of time pressure. Another was taking the production out of Lagos. I depended on people so much over there (Enugu).
What should people be expecting in Rattlesnake III?
Believe me, it is a whole new ball game. An improved version, with all the trappings of the first two. All the dead woods in the first two parts were dropped. This one is more precise, a thriller, with romance, action, no unnecessary violence. I actually avoided the showing of blood. It’s a vintage Moving Movies production. We were still as thorough as before. Ahanna was there, Peter, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, The Godfather, etc. The old cast was there except, like I said, the old woods that we dropped. Rattlesnake III is the final resolution of the story I started in the first part. I’m not going to write the part four so nobody should ask me for that.
Most people know you to be a television person, but right now it is like you are more into home video productions. Will you still come back to T.V?
Yes. I’ve worked out three television programmes already – Chains of Time, Power Play and one other one whose title I don’t want to give out now (alleges that people have stolen her titles before). I’m discussing with the sponsors right now and I’m hoping to finalise everything with them soon.
These new three programmes, do you think that any of them can equal Checkmate?
Definitely. They are all coming from the same source. We are also going to be more technical. Why I have not done anything is because I have not gotten the kind of money that I need to compete with people in other countries. I did Checkmate with a low budget. If I get the kind of money that I need, I’m going to beat Checkmate all round – technically, acting-wise, etc. It will even be more successful.
Do you still miss Checkmate?
What are the things you miss most about it?
I miss not completing the story. I had thought that LBN would complete the story after doing the pilot of the sequel. I, however, do not miss the blood pressure and harassment that came with it (Her baby cries. He was sleeping when I came in).
One of the greatest problems of this industry is piracy. Can we have your views on that?
(Excuses herself to attend to the baby. Returns minutes later and just as she was about tackling the question, her husband, Charles and daughter, Ruby return and after mummy this, mummy that from the girl, the interview continues). First and foremost, trying to get the government to enforce the law has been a problem. The law gives ample cover to owners of these works yet it is not being enforced. For example, the law says before you open a video club, you should have copyright assignment. Now, there is hardly any video club in Nigeria that has that. So, what are they renting and since they don’t have that, why is the government folding its arms. The whole world is strongly against piracy. Have you heard about TRIPS?
(I responded in the affirmative). It is a patented law that says if you as a country is known for patent abuse, they are going to be decertified and treated like countries that deal on drugs.
China is doing something big about its piracy problem. The patent abuse is much here. So, by next year, we are going to be dealt with officially. Ghana has cleaned up its acts. Those who pirate films in Ghana are Nigerians. Obasanjo has talked about everything under the sun. Yet he has not said anything about piracy. What are you going to do in this country that pirates will not deal with you?
What about this other fear of marketers taking over the industry?
The fear is genuine, palpable. They have taken over already, producing, directing and even acting. There is nothing we can do about it. They own the market, they have the money. Just that professionalism is being taken over by commercialism. And that’s where my fear is. Unfortunately, some professionals have gone down the gutter, fighting violence for violence, rituals for rituals.
Once my movies are applauded, I have no quarrels with what they are doing. You don’t become a carpenter because you have the money. You have to learn the trade. I don’t have problems with them producing so far as they learn the techniques and also improve on their marketing… (Phone interrupts).
Let’s go personal. Let’s have your self-description. The Amaka Igwe that we don’t know?
(Thinks) I think the one thing I know about myself is that I am a Christian and that I try to live with the fear of God. My guiding principle is to be the best in any circumstance I find myself and this has made some people to say that I’m hyper-success-driven. That is, I’m always trying to be successful.
I have some level of education and have always reeducated myself. I like learning and can learn from anybody, big or small, poor or rich. I like investing in people. I’m sometimes impatient and I have a temper which I try to put under control always. I don’t stomach people who don’t tell the truth. I’m a very private person. I hate my private life being written about. I like travelling because it is part of learning. I’ve been to so many places. Even the most remotest that you won’t know they exist.
What was it like growing up?
My childhood was very happy; sometimes I wonder why I grew up. I was number five in a family of seven (6 girls and 1 boy). My father worked with Shell then as a Marketing Executive. My mother was a housewife. But baked cakes and also made clothes. I was born in Port Harcourt, my parents lived abroad, I grew up in Lagos (Ikoyi to be precise). I went to good schools and really had fun growing up.
How about your involvement with the industry. How did it start?
It started in 1986 when I saw Mirror in the Sun. Before then, I was a guru on stage. From my primary school in the 70’s and till 1977 when I was in secondary school, (had) started writing proper stage plays. It continued till I got to the university. I wrote, directed and even acted in so many of them. So, when I saw Lola Fani-Kayode’s Mirror in the Sun and Cock Crow at Dawn, I decided to write mine and that was how Checkmate was born in 1988. I won an award in script writing (NIFETEP) and that became my launching pad. I gathered enough money to do Checkmate and the rest is history.
What is the difference between Amaka and the other producers and directors?
I don’t know. I just do my own things, my own way. I learn from anybody, local and international. I read a lot and try to improve on what others are doing. And that’s why To Live Again was better than Forever, like the REEL Awards people said.
What do you have to say about the movie industry today?
Is there one really?
Even if there is none, what do you have to say about whatever it is that is going on now?
We should have a council for movie making for standardization, professionalism. There should be basic entry qualification requirement; proper distribution network, training and retaining, a system of reward and punishment. You can be an accountant only if ICAN says so. Here, it is not so.
The market is so stagnant that movies don’t sell anymore. What do you think is responsible?
The problem is not far-fetched. One, there is a glut in the market. Too many movies and majority of them are rubbish. Sifting the good from the bad makes people to lose so much money. Next time, they don’t even bother to buy at all. Workers are not paid and it is these low and middle income people who buy movies more. So, rather than buy, they rent. And nobody buys a movie again after renting it.
Another is that people are quarrelling with themes like violence, bloodshed, rituals, etc, Finally, the issue of piracy. There are so many pirates, video club owners, those who dub, those who sell movies without jackets, those who pirate jackets. And not forgetting bad distribution. The marketers don’t know anything about distribution. The marketers don’t know anything about distribution. They are just into buying and selling, wholesale and retail. Film distribution starts with the cinema and from there to video rental, from there to video and from video, it goes on TV. When you make a movie, you are supposed to make your money on four fronts. But ours stops at Idumota (Lagos) and Iweka Road (Onitsha, Anambra). Formerly, these movies were coming out systematically, maybe one in a month. Now about twenty comes out weekly.
What is the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) doing to check this? I understand you are a member?
AMP as far as I’m concerned died years ago. It was supposed to be an association of like minds, but instead it was full of people who are the problems of this industry. People who flouted orders, thrived on petty jealousy, etc. In-fighting killed us. A group of us have gathered to form a new body. Soon, you will hear from us (Movie Practitioners Council of Nigeria). We are working on regulating the industry and we have the backing of the government. Andy Best, Contech, Sil and Infinity fought against this because they import tapes and all want to sell their tapes, but like I said, AMP killed itself. It became a snake that swallowed itself.
Will you ever step aside from the movie industry?
I don’t hope to remain a director for too long. I’m training people already and our hope is that our children will be better than us. Directing is strenuous and takes a lot from me.
So, what are your future plans?
I’m working on a movie right now. It’s called Solitaire. I’ve started casting. After this, I will do a soap. Most likely the third. I hope to go on air by September. After that, I will do another contemporary rural movie. I’m planning to work with two other directors.
Finally, what will you like to reincarnate as?
I don’t believe in reincarnation. So, I can’t come back as anything.
NB: This interview had earlier been published
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