My heart began to beat faster as the entire class turned towards me. I WASN’T exactly the chatty type back then as it would take me being totally comfortable with the person or environment to be that way. I analysed her question while painstakingly accommodating the stares of my fellow classmates and with all the confidence I had gathered from working on stage productions, managed to blurt out, “Patrick… My name is Patrick Ugele. I write, direct and perform stage plays.”
At the head of the class was Mrs. Amaka Igwe and with a smile on her face, she simply said, “Okay, Patrick. Now drop everything you know about writing for stage. Clear your mind because this is different. Screenwriting is a different ball game and you will have to drop everything you have known in other to learn.” There was something about the way she said it that calmed my nerves. I had thought this was going to be the case but it wasn’t till after she said it that it really hit home.
The above paragraphs tell of my official introduction to Mrs. Amaka Igwe (“Mrs. I”) or “Mama” as I LIKE to call her. Such was her personality and attention to individuals that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were the only one she was teaching despite being in a class filled with other students.
Today, three years after your passing, Mama, I have come to tell. There are lots of personal stories to tell but not much space here, so I will tell the ‘little much’ this space will afford me.
LET me first tell of that cold, rainy night many years ago after the ‘Four Points’ experience when I sat at home plotting and writing breakdowns of episodes for a TV series on paper. I had episodes to deliver to you, but also had a bad laptop at the time. It slowed me down badly and I had no immediate solution. God knows it was a pretty sad situation for a budding Screenwriter back then. That same night, I received a text message from you asking how far I had gone with my work and I just couldn’t hide it anymore. I sent a reply stating how I was finding it difficult considering that I didn’t have a laptop to knock out my episodes with. Then, almost immediately, my phone rang and it was you asking me to come to the studio the next day.
I ambled into the studio the next day hoping to be given some time on one of the computers in the office only to find that you had provided money to purchase a brand new laptop for me. The freedom that singular act gave me in career development cannot be overemphasised.
MAMA, I will tell of how you invited me to your house to meet on another TV Soap you wanted me to write all by myself for the studio. As a fresher, I remember how honoured I felt to have been trusted and bestowed with such a responsibility by my teacher. I remember how those hours of meeting swung into you ever so excitedly telling me the plots and twists of two new movies you were getting ready to make. These projects for you were coming after a long hiatus and were going to be grand. I remember how I sat there listening and wondering how on earth I got so privileged to be listening to this gist first hand from you. Your enthusiasm for Nollywood and our own stories was second to none. I remember you saying you’ll be travelling to Enugu to go oversee the building of a village settlement which was to serve as location for one of the movies. Sort of what is obtainable with proper film studios in Hollywood. Sad that these were some of the things you were up to before you went home.
MAMA, I will tell of some of our Filmmaking classes back then at the Centre; of how you were teacher and student all at the same time. One remarkable thing about you was the conversation style you adopted in class. Despite your vast experience and knowledge; you were just so open to learning new tricks. Although this was with the appropriate cautions experience had taught you to employ. After all, experience is experience and can’t be bought.
I will quote a few of your favourite phrases here; “I am an unrepentant commercial filmmaker”, “Think it through”, “The movie either works for you or it does not”, “Your story has to be palpable and flexible”, “Tell our stories”. These phrases and much more, we still hold dear.
YES, I remember your Wake-keep, mama. Great men and women in Nollywood and beyond came to honour you. You had produced teachers, facilitators, mentors, practitioners and game changers in the industry and even other industries and that’s all you really needed to do. That day, as the stage filled up after Chris Ihidero called for those you’ve influenced and taught to step on stage for one final bow, it further hammered home that you really, really, really had done great.
I tell just a few here, Mama, but I won’t leave till I tell of how you loved your God. You really did and many can testify of this too. Indeed, there is much more to tell and I will, in due time. But at this moment, I am immensely honoured to have been one of your products and earnestly pray your children (Ruby, David and Daniel) continue to enjoy the fruits of your labour. We, your ‘Filmmaking’ children are also doing well and won’t fail at continuing to make you proud.
Thank you so, so much.
I miss you. Rest on dear Mama.