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Jeta Amata: Nollywood's Production Prodigy

Posted by By Modupe Ogunbayo on 2004/09/12 | Views: 4802 |

Jeta Amata: Nollywood's Production Prodigy


Jeta has single-handedly given the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood, international recognition, respectability and admiration

Jeta has single-handedly given the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood, international recognition, respectability and admiration

February 11, 2004 is one day that would forever be most memorable to this young man.That day, during the annual Berlin Film Festival, he got a standing ovation from the European audience when he premiered his film, shot on location in Germany with German cast and crew, The Alexa Affair. With that feat, he single-handedly gave the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood, international recognition, respectability and admiration. No doubt, 30-year old Jeta Amata is now a leader in Nollywood and one to reckon with in the global film industry.

Intending to correct Western sarcasm of Nollywood films derided for being shot with one steadicam camera and three lamps in five days, on a $75,000 budget, Jeta gave the world a surprising jolt. During the production of The Alexa Affair, he disallowed tea or coffee break, siestas and so on. Scenes were shot in the daytime as well as during the night. The German cast and crew were outraged. But, no, he insisted that, that is the way it goes in Nollywood, the third largest film industry after US and India. Fears that the film might be shoddy were dispelled upon its completion after five days. The West, used to shooting films in six months or longer was pleasantly amazed. Indeed, thanks to Jeta's efforts, the Nigerian model of film making is being adopted now in many countries. It saves time, saves cost and saves energy.

Jeta rose to global prominence when he produced a film/documentary for the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, late last year. The BBC had contracted Nick Moran, a British film maker, to travel to Nigeria to shoot the film/documentary on location in Nigeria with Nigerian cast and crew. So Jeta's home video, Game of Life, was used as footage in the film. Moran collaborated with Jeta on the project. And, the result was Nick Goes to Nollywood which premiered in London and was broadcast on BBC. Jeta and Moran, appeared on several talk shows together in England, pontificating on the phenomenal growth of Nollywood. Typical of a pioneer who worked hard for a goal beneficial not only to himself, but to others, Amata did not only elaborate on Nick goes to Nollywood but, dwelt on correcting misconceptions about Nollywood, its growth, potentials and investment profitability to interested Western investors.

Consequently, several foreign investors have indicated interest in investing in Nollywood films. Moreover, corporate organisations in Nigeria hitherto nonchalant about investing in the industry, are now jostling to do so.

Jeta, too, has been shooting up like a meteor. He has acted, produced or directed films in Brazil, England, Camerouns and South Africa since February 2004. The Cross River Government, has just contracted him to produce a film on Mary Slessor, the British missionary who ended the killing of twins in the area in the 19th century. From being an obscure participant in Nollywood, Jeta seems set for the stratosphere, much to the admiration of most.

Jeta is a chip off the old block. His late grandfather, John Amata, was a veteran actor. John acted in Freedom, the largest motion picture in the colonial era with a cast of five thousand. John's son, Zack Amata, is Jeta's father. Zack is renowned for his role as Mr. Okonzua, Nosa's father and a strict disciplinarian in Behind The Clouds, a soap that gripped the consciousness of Nigerians many years ago.

Interestingly, while Zack and his father, John, were classmates at the University of Ibadan, Zack taught his son, Jeta, at the Benue State University, Makurdi. There, Jeta was subjected to all manners of endurance training by his father. In scoring the students Zack seemed to apply a higher standard for the son. No concessions were given to him because he is Zack's son. It got so bad that Jeta reported his father to the head of department at a time. Zack would hinge his behaviour on preparing Jeta for the future, something he started since Jeta's childhood.

Indeed, Jeta's earliest memories of growing up was experience garnered from him. Since his mother was schooling, Zack and Jeta, were the two men in the house; cleaning together, cooking together and experimenting together. Jeta's sense of adventure was sown by his father who would bring a toy or a book to read together, study a particular insect got from Zack's insect zoo behind the house or dismantle a toy in order to couple it back. Grooming Jeta to be the multi-talented, Zack taught him to play the piano and chess from the age of seven. Jeta was groomed to develop a quick and active mind for books though not for acting. To Zack, his father, acting is not profitable. Upon noticing Jeta's love for watching television plays, he moved the television set from the living room to his bedroom. When he discovered that Jeta had devised a means of sneaking into his bedroom when his back was turned, Zack sold off his television set. Upon enquiry, he told Jeta he wanted him to work hard to be able to afford its purchase. When Jeta did this as an undergraduate, Zack was thrilled.

The Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB, has inadvertently been in some cases the ultimate shaper of destiny by denying applicants admission in one course and offering another. While Jeta was dreaming of sitting in the cockpit, JAMB decided otherwise. He was not admitted for Aeronautics, his dream course. Instead, he got Theatre Arts.

On one of his trips to the Benue State University's campus to press for his admission, he stumbled on a casting session for a stage production. The Samson Akpan play lacked a very important character. One of the casting directors gave the script to him for a try. After delivering a few lines, he got the part. He dazzled the audience so much on the performance day that he was offered admission to study Theatre Arts by the school authorities. Zack, too, forgot his stance on the issue for a moment and went backstage to see Jeta. "You have done it," Zack told him that day.

Indeed, Jeta whose journey in the movie industry has been rough, has done it. Over the years, he had been hungry, starved, penniless and had to beg for sustenance. Through this period, he was unflinching in his resolve that acting was the profession for him. Focused on this goal, he chose as an emerging leader, to move patiently but steadily towards his goal.

That is why Jeta reflects on what he achieved during the day before going to bed. Immediately he wakes up the next day, he checks on what he did the previous day to ascertain areas he might still want to straighten out in order to make optimal use of the new day whether in acting or in other engagements.

Though, Jeta has not been in front of the camera in recent times but, behind it, he still acts. Some of his productions, mainly outside the country feature him as an actor beside directing and producing them.

Amidst juggling these duties, Jeta would work harder if serenaded by a meal of Semovita and any good soup. He finds time to read, play chess or scrabble or at best, fiddle with a computer with his younger brother, Viefe, a 20-year-old Computer Engineering student at the University of Calabar. Amata, his three-year old brother, loves to tag along too, imitating whatever his older siblings do. However, both have not been bitten by the Amata's bug. From the gamut of actors, Jeta's best actor is Eric Anderson, a yet unknown actor. Till date, he still gets sad when he remembers the day his grandfather, John, died. His awe of his grandfather arose from his possessing rare leadership qualities of humility, selflessness and compassion. In recent times, Donald Duke, Cross River governor, personifies these values to him. However, were there to be an afterlife, he would listen to Zack, his father, more and tap readily from his words of wisdom from childhood. He would not deem his training, acts of wickedness but, survivalist training necessary for him to navigate the world successfully.

For those inspired by him, he wants them to work harder at what they do. "More patiently but, steadily, if it is designed for you, you would achieve it. But, you must be ready to till the ground first by working hard," he said. No doubt, Jeta Amata has emerged as a beacon of light and Nollywood's most creative production prodigy at 30.

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