April 24, 2012|Christopher Vourlias | Variety
LAGOS The stars of African cinema aligned Sunday for the eighth Africa Movie Academy Awards at a splashy ceremony held in Lagos, Nigeria's cultural and economic capital.
Kicking off the gala, which had a theme of Africa Rising, AMAA founder Peace Anyiam-Osigwe pointed to the growing importance of Africa's film industries as they attempt to reshape the continent's image.
"Our objective is to tell African stories in our own words, and in our own way," she said, to rousing applause.
South African helmer Charlie Vundla was the night's big winner, earning director honors for his debut, "How 2 Steal 2 Million," a film noir thriller that snagged four awards, including best film.
Nigeria's "Adesuwa," directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun, took home three awards, including best Nigerian film.
Khalo Matabane's "State of Violence" (South Africa) won for film in an African language, while the Nigerian-South African co-production "Man on Ground," directed by Akin Omatoso, took the special jury award for its story about xenophobia in South Africa.
Two of West Africa's biggest stars nabbed trophies for best performances in leading roles, with Nigeria's Rita Dominic winning actress honors for her role in the Kenyan pic "Shattered," and Ghana's Majid Michel named best actor for his performance in "Somewhere in Africa."
The awards were a triumph for Nigeria, which boasts Africa's most prolific film industry and took home 12 awards, followed by South Africa with 10.
Anyiam-Osigwe praised the home-grown Nollywood phenomenon for transforming the way films are made on the continent.
"Nollywood actually changed African cinema," she said. "It made Africans believe they can just go out and make that film."
In the years since its inaugural edition in 2005, the AMAAs have grown from a Nollywood phenomenon into a pan-African event, including nominees from more than a dozen countries across the continent and the diaspora.
Last year's big winner was "Viva Riva," a noir drama by the Congolese helmer Djo Tunga Wa Munda, which scooped six awards, including film and director. This year's AMAAs received more than 300 submissions from across the continent -- by far the most in its eight-year run.
There were still some notable absences from the list of nominees. French-speaking West Africa, traditionally regarded as a cinematic powerhouse on the continent, was hardly represented, while North African heavyweights Morocco and Egypt were shut out from the nominations.
It was indicative of some of the challenges facing a continent still defined by colonial borders, where linguistic hurdles often make it difficult for neighboring countries to do business, and visa snafus kept some filmmakers from attending the ceremony.
Anyiam-Osigwe gave an impassioned plea for African nations to tear down their borders to allow for the free movement of people, ideas and capital, while also calling for greater investment in African film, which she said "cannot be done without the infrastructure support of corporate Nigeria and corporate Africa.
"A new wave of African filmmakers has emerged across the continent," she said. "Africa offers a lucrative film market because our filmmakers produce movies that African audiences can identify with and relate to their everyday lives."
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