Award winning Nigerian filmmaker, Jeta Amata, is one of the biggest export in Nollywood, as far as film making is concerend.He comes from a family of veteran filmmakers including Ifoghale Amata, Zack Amata and Fred Amata. Growing up in the film industry, following his family’s passion for film, Jeta produced and directed his first film at the age of 21.He studied Theater Arts at Benue State University in Makurdi, Nigeria and hasn’t looked back since then. He holds 53 nominations and 10 wins for film awards in Africa, Europe and the United States, and is considered one of the most successful filmmakers to come out of West Africa. Renowned for making dynamic block buster movies, one of his great works titled Black November has earned him an international acclaim. The disciplined father of an adorable 7 year old daughter cuts the picture of a tough nut but he is indeed a thorough bred professional film maker who pays very keen attention to details. His movie Black November produced few years ago has continued to garner awards from different countries, cutting across USA, France Europe and several others. City People Head of Movie Desk VIVIAN ONUORAH met the celebrated filmmaker in Los Angeles,USA few weeks back and he spoke about his passion for movie making, his latest projects and his experience with the militants while shooting the movie Black November.
Your movie Black November has won you several awards both within and outside the country, how do feel about that?
I never really do films because of award, this is about the first awards ceremony am attending in 4 years, the last one where I had a film was the Black American Film Festival where I put my film ,other than that I don’t put up my films for awards until I feel there are other credible ways awards are given, who are the judges, who are the people that decided what films win? Some people can just organise anything and decided who wins awards that is not proper.
What inspired the movie Black November?
The Niger Delta, if you can slightly understand what is going on in the Niger Delta, you can understand why a movie like black November has to be made. It’s easier to explain it to people out here because they understand the oil spill and the exon viodis,and we have been having the exon viodis once every year for the past 50 years, we have the most devastated and polluted sites in the world and nobody talks about it, we just keep going on like everything is ok but it’s not.
Why the focus on Niger Delta?
Because I wanted to send out a message especially to the Americans, I wanted them to know that one out of every 5 Americans uses Nigeria’s oil,20% of the oil that America was exporting was coming from us, so they needed to realise they were buying Nigerian oil and the impact we also have on them.
You were reportedly got death threats while shooting the movie, can you tell us about that experience?
I got a lot of threats but I didn’t see anyone physically try to threaten me, I was only getting threat text messages but I felt it was just someone playing a prank because I went to all the militants to meet with them before shooting the movie so I knew there was no problem proceeding with it.
Professionally, what were the challenges?
Bringing a foreign crew to Nigeria and this was years ago so it wasn’t easy getting people to fly down to Nigeria, it’s not like now everybody is doing .Then the equipment I used to bring to Nigeria ,it wasn’t easy too, I had challenges with all that .I remember that customs held my equipment for like one whole week before I started filming, so I had challenges with equipment, and you know generally the situation in Nigeria. I shot in Warri at one time and the first 3 days, my crew had to stay in a hotel, no one could come outside ,we needed permission from all the militants before we could come out to shoot. The 3rd day,Asari Dokubo’s wife said tell them to shoot, why are you people delaying them and they allowed us but they asked us to keep our police men and other securities at the hotel, just go and do your thing and that was it.
How were you able to penetrate the militants to shoot the movie?
I am a Niger Delta boy so first of all I speak their language, and when I told them that am telling their story, they listened to me .I explained to them that I wanted to let the world know of our struggle and they obliged.
What’s was the overall cost of the production?
About 7.5million Dollars.
How did you come up with such fund?
I got investors from Nigeria, there is a major sponsor from Nigeria, Captain Hosa Okpunbo,he financed the larger part of it, then another Niger Delta person Walter Obasoma helped too. It was completely funded by Nigerians.
Has that been your biggest movie project?
Yes it’s my biggest movie so far but I have just finished working on one that should be out January next year and then am going on location on another one soon.
The one you just finished, what is the movie about?
It’s about early marriages in Nigeria.
Why are you doing a story about early marriage?
Do you like the fact that they are marrying off our daughter at age 11.I have a daughter who is 7 and you can imagine someone trying to marry off that little girl when she is 9.Imagine the way I would feel. Before I had a daughter it didn’t mean anything to me but now it’s happening, I know how it feels.
What exactly would you be talking about in the movie?
It just shows the problems young girls go through, the fistula problem. When the pelvis is not matured enough for the baby to pass through and she gets pregnant and delivers a child, there is an internal tear between the vagina and the bladder, it can make her leak urine without control all through her life and then she is ostracised in the community. There are thousands of cases of it in Nigeria and people don’t know because no one is telling the story ,so the people who are going into these marriages need to understand the health implications. Also the government needs to understand so they can protect our little girls.
How would infer that getting married early too inspired this movie?
I didn’t get married early
But it was widely reported that your wife got married to you at a very age?
No she was about 23 years old and would you call that young? Am talking about 9,10 year old girls
Even at 23,don’t you think it is early for some people?
How can you say that ,you can’t say getting married at 23 is early,
It is believed to be one of the reasons your marriage didn’t last, how about that?
What about people who marry late and they pack up when they are 60,anything could be the reason for a marriage break up and you can’t liken my marriage breaking up to the fact that am doing a film about early marriages.
Are people going to be saying why is Jeta doing a movie on marriage even when his own marriage broke up?
It’s wrong, people shouldn’t judge like that .I don’t listen to people like that or encourage such talks. It’s a movie on early marriage and shouldn’t be likened to marriage. I don’t talk about my marriage and that’s why I don’t do interviews anymore. It’s all about my works.
Back to your career, what have been the challenges ?
Challenges of trying to get the right story to do and also the right people to do it. Also funding.
And living abroad, does it make any difference?
My location makes no difference because I have always used this pace to make my films even whilst in Nigeria, it has always been like that.
For how long
My first film was glamour boys