Filmmaker endows new award at Ann Arbor Fest

Amy Moore talks films, Africa and inspiration

A conversation with Amy Moore is peppered with references to her love for both film and Africa. This is fitting, as her generosity has led to the foundation of a new prize, The No. 1 African Film Award, which will be given during the upcoming 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival (which runs March 22 through March 27).

Moore became a filmmaker because she “always wanted to write screenplays.”  She gained her early experience in performance arts through the theater in New York City, working  as assistant director or assistant producer, with names such as Bob Fosse and Jonathan Miller. She then “hopped over to film,” she said. Moore knows how to tell a story and the elements that make a story great. With those two attributes, she has followed that as a career.

Getting bitten

Moore explains her love of the African continent and the way of life that it presents as “you get bitten. I just fell in love with it.” She was the producer of the BBC/HBO series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, one of the first major productions to be filmed in Botswana. Moore has endowed the “No. 1” award for African films— both films made by Africans as well as films with an African subject matter. The Award is made possible due to  a $15,000 endowment contribution from Moore, a former resident of southern Africa now living in Ann Arbor. The winning film will receive an award of $500.

The No. 1 African Film Award is a play on the name of Moore’s involvement in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The series was based on a story that Moore read, though it was still unpublished at the time, which is now a wildly successful set of over a dozen novels. Based upon the quality of the story and it’s compelling nature, Moore acquired the film rights and created the series, which was then purchased by HBO and BBC, screening first in 2009.

The story owns us

Moore said the decision to endow the No. 1 African Film Award for films associated with the African continent was based largely on a quote from Chinua Achebe in his book Anthills of the Savannah: “It is only the story … that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.”

Moore explained that when she read the Achebe quote that  “it all came together” — her long-standing involvement with the Ann Arbor Film Festival as a board member, her filmmaking background and her love for Africa. It was, per Achebe, “the story that owns me.”  Moore comments that the filmmakers from Africa have been represented at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in growing numbers over the years and add to the otherwise large contingent of international filmmakers.

Moore’s first trip to Africa, when she was 12 years old, began her affinity for the people and the land, prompting her to return after college. She visited Botswana and hitchhiked around the country, at a time when there were few roads and the land was largely undeveloped. Years later, she was hired by the Struggle Leaders, a group that resisted and worked to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Moore was given the charge to start a film studio.

Residing in Johannesburg for 12 years shaped her feelings and further developed her love for southern Africa and Botswana and their cultures. Moore explained, “It is hard for me to express the depth of my feelings for this country — the space expands and the time stands still,” adding that “it is a mindset, a quietude, a feeling of love for Africa and its way of life.”