Amaka Igwe: An Ode To The Last Of Nigeria’s True Commercial Filmmakers

Nobility and pragmatism are two ideals that rarely ever mix. But in the works of the newly departed, they seem to find a weird co-existence.

It feels so reductive to talk about Amaka Igwe as a filmmaker when a loving husband has just lost a wife, 3 children have lost their source of maternal joy, love, and inspiration, and an aged woman has lost her daughter of many years. All they have left are memories.

But all through her lifetime of creativity, her stellar works in Nollywood, and her staunch business acumen, have defined the way we saw, related with, appreciated, and ultimately, miss her.

I have had the privilege of meeting this departed jewel, only once in my career. Even though I wished it was more, I hold onto he fact that I was blessed by it. I had just come to Lagos to build a career in journalism, and one of my duties was to cover the inaugural Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NEC) which took place at the Eko Hotel, Lagos, in the spring of 2013.

Slated as one of the feature speakers, Amaka had taken to the podium to deliver a lecture. She titled it and proceeded to win our hearts and provoke our minds. She was candid, beamed of overwhelming confidence, possessed uncanny wit, and above all, her attention to detail, coupled with an unflagging memory stunned me.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my due respect to everyone. I want to thank the organisers for inviting me and I want to kill Chris Ihidero (media personality) for leaking my secret which is that I will not apologize about being a commercial film maker. This issue came up when people started dividing, you know we have been through films for aesthetics, you know film for this and that and I said I do mine to make money. I have got bills to pay, my children are in school and that is what I have done right from the days of Checkmate because I come from a real business background....” Amaka began.

In that moment I saw more than a woman with a noble ideal to entertain the world, but also to make pragmatically huge financial profits. She was a cross between a French aesthete and a Nigerian hustler. One of a kind. And she was unapologetic for it.

That opener have lived with me since that day. Marry nobility with pragmatism, and the results will yield endless benefits. Have a functional ideal, have an eye on quality, even in the face of wanton commercialism, and your business model will hit the big time.

Amaka Igwe, 51, who was trained in theatre arts, had produced movies, series and soap operas for television, film and video. In the 1990’s, the immensely popular soap opera, Checkmate, catapulted her to national renown and was ranked among the standard-setting works for Nollywood productions. Her short film, The Barber’s Wisdom is one of the few shot on celluloid among contemporary Nigerian filmmakers, which attests to the popularity of the home video movement from which Nollywood evolved.

In addition to the central role she played as a filmmaker, Igwe was an important stakeholder in the Nigerian film industry. A visionary and pioneer of modern Nigerian TV drama and film, her award-winning TV soap ‘Checkmate’ and its off shoot ‘Fuji House of Commotion’ earned her top spot amongst women involved in cinematography in Africa. Her Nollywood projects include RattleSnake’’ and ‘‘Violated’ – two critically-acclaimed movies that set apart Amaka Igwe Studios in the much-criticised Nollywood industry.

She was the founder and organizer of BOBTV, the acronym for Best of the Best TV, a film and television programme market held annually in Abuja. She was also the CEO of Top Radio 90.9FM, Amaka Igwe Studios, and the newly-launched Q Entertainment Networks. The Lagos mainland based Top Radio station was launched years ago, with preparations underway to launch Q Networks, a DSTV channel in a few weeks.. In addition, it is a venue for meetings, conferences and workshops related to film/video.

A career spanning decades, and landmarks, it was only poetic that she had to depart doing the thing she loves. She passed away in Enugu where she had gone, in company of her husband, for pre-production preparations for a new Igbo soap. ‘She suffered an asthma attack and was immediately rushed to the hospital after initial interventions had failed. She passed on before getting to the hospital’, a statement issued Tuesday morning read.

And so she left. Bequeathing us with a wealth of memories, reflections and a legacy of goodness. Rest in peace Amaka Igwe. Long may your pragmatic nobility give Nigerian entertainment a true sense of direction.

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