Like America’s late Marilyn Monroe who did one of the best movies in American history, at her first try; so also some uncut Africans are making all go ‘wow’ with their wonder productions.
They never thought of making a movie all their lives. They never had the dream. How could they, when their country does not even have a movie industry? The only movie they get to see are Nollywood films, which are very popular in the country. They come from Malawi, a country with just one government-owned television station. In fact, a large percentage of those who own televisions, do so only to watch Nollywood movies.
It is this deficiency of good locally- made movies that spurred the trio of Shemu Joyah, Flora Suya, and Tapiwa Gwaza, to attempt what no one has done in their country; and much to their surprise, they ended up creating a masterpiece.
They were all amateurs. The producer had never produced any movie before. The actors had never acted and the director had never directed . Yet, their output shocked the world. Their movie ‘Season of a life’ has graced film festivals all around the world. And recently, the film got eight nominations at the African Movie Accedemy Award (AMAA).
So how did they pull the stunt? Firstly, they had to douse themselves for months in various Nollywood movies. They studied movements of the camera and how the actors did their thing. Following every step in details, they did not go wrong. According the director of the, smashing hit movie, Shemu Joyah, it was not just about following Nollywood, but also about hard work, determination to succeed, and days without sleep.
‘Our country does not have a movie industry, so we had to study movies, especially Nollywood movies. The film turned out to be the only one to come out of Malawi to make so much impact. I made sure that it was a purely Malawian movie, by not asking for help from outside. Both the cast and crew were all Malawians. We auditioned a lot of people and I was shocked by the number of people that turned up . It shows that there a lot of people that are interested in movies. After we picked the people we thought would play the roles well, we went ahead to rehearse for six months. I know elsewhere rehearsals should take only weeks, but, here, we have a problem. All our actors had not acted before so we had to make sure they really understood what they were doing. So that is what I think affected the quality of the movie. it was over rehearsed, so it was hard to get it wrong.’ said Shemu Joyah.
He also speaks on how he was able to succeed with no experience. ‘People do not believe me when I tell them that I have never done any movie before, but it’s true. This is my first movie. I never went to a film school. In fact, I went to school to study Mathematics and Physics. When I went to the U.K to study, I did land survey. So, what I did was to watch movies. I also studied a lot about film making on my own.
“I think I am more of a creative writer, so I think I wanted to see my thoughts acted out, that was why I decided to do the movie. It is more of an instinct thing.’
Though the film is being acclaimed internationally, the director is having problems releasing it into his home market. The problem is same as that of Nigeria Piracy! ‘Well it has not been easy distributing. Right now, we are only on one cinema in Malawi, though it is also been shown in some entertainment houses. The truth is, we don’t just want to throw the film out there. It is too precious for that. We are afraid of piracy, so we decided to take it to film festivals first. But very soon, when the whole hype on it goes down, we will think of putting it on DVD. In fact, there is a big demand for its DVD right now, Mr Joyah said.
Six nominations at AMAA is a huge start for a movie done by rookies Joyah was too elated to speak on the nominations. Though the film eventualy carted home just one award, the director seems to be content. ‘I am so happy that we were able to get so many nominations. It only goes to show that our work was not a waste of time. It is a push for us to do more. Yes, we won only one award. what can we say! Being nominated alone is okay for us. Now, we know where to concentrate on when we are to do any other movie. I do thank God for even winning one at all.
There was a twist of faith for the trio who made the film happen. Flora Suya, who played the lead role in the movie, was in strong contention to win the best actress category. She was pitched alongside seasoned actresses like Bimbo Akintola, Jakie Appiah, and Stephanie Okereke. She was also tipped to win, but she did not. The upset however was when her supporting actress, Tapiwa Gwaza, clinched an award for the best supporting actress. Tapiwa was pitched against Funlola Aofiyebi and Yvonne Nelson and was the underdog of the category.
In a chat with Flora Suya, one could feel the camaraderie that existed between both actresses. Flora said she was happy that Tapiwa won. That it is a good thing that at least one of them won something. Flora says she was overwhelmed by the fact that an African award recognises her and decided to nominate her. ‘I have never been nominated for anything in my life. As you know it is my first film ever, so you can imagine how I feel’ Flora said. When commenting on the fact that she was able to do well on her first outing, she attributted her success to God’s intervention.
‘ I do not know how it happened. I went for the audition and I did not believe that I was picked to do the lead role. Our director really drilled us. There were times I thought I should leave the whole thing behind, but I think it was what I was meant to do. Our director, Shemu Joyah, was also very supportive, even when I was not doing well, he encouraged me telling me that I could do it. I really thank him for the opportunity.’
She also confessed that she was jittery the first time she was on stage. ‘wow, I was scared the first time. I made many mistakes. It is one thing to do well at the audition, but when that cameras are on you, that is another thing. But my director was patient with me so after a while, I got used to the whole idea.’
With so much she had learnt from Nollywood movies, her dream is easy to imagine. Her greatest wish Flora says is to work with Nigerian actors. She says she grew up watching Nigerian films, and she very much wishes to act side by side Nigerian actors.
Award Winner, Tapiwa Gwaza, was most greatful of the lot. She has two children and she had a hard time taking care of them while she was working on the movie set. ‘It was very challenging for me. My children needed me a lot. So I had to work very hard to satisfy my children and also do a good job on set. The director understood the challenges and accommodated me all the same. I did not believe that I could act. A lot of my friends tell me that I would make a good actor, but I did not believe them. When they told me that there is an audition, I did not take it seriously. One of them made sure I attended the audition. At the end, I was chosen to take the supporting role. Though things were not going well for me at the time, but the movie kept me going on, I thank God that I am appreciated after all.’ Tapiwa said.
The dedication and determination the three Malawians displayed has shown that a good movie can be shot with little funds and experience. They shot the movie for over one year. Movie makers in Nigeria who have all the equipment can take a cue from these copy cats who beat them to their games, if only they take more time and patience with their films.
By Hazeez Balogun