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Nollywood Rising

Posted on Aug 27, 2009

By Gbemisola Olujobi

(Page 2)

The films are made on shoestring budgets of time and money. An average production takes about 10 days and costs approximately $15,000. Nollywood’s most prolific director, Chico Ejiro, who directed over 80 films in an eight-year period, reportedly brags that he can complete production on a movie in as little as three days.

Actual shooting is no less crazy. Saachi reports that shooting is usually delayed by obstacles that are unheard of in Hollywood. Star actors, often working on several films at the same time, are not usually punctual for shooting. And this is not always because they are exhibiting star power. Lagos, for instance, is a city of unimaginable urban chaos, where about 20 million people negotiate their existence in the midst of hectic traffic. Frequent power outages also help to hold things up. Location shooting is often delayed by local thugs (known as area boys) who extort money for protection before they will allow filming to take place in their territories. Such scenes are commonplace in a country with high unemployment figures and very few opportunities for self-actualization.

Despite the craziness, Nollywood has carved a niche which has made many describe it as an African, if not a global, phenomenon. Africa’s rich tradition of storytelling, which has been expressed over the ages through oral and written fiction, had never been conveyed through the mass media. Nollywood is therefore a milestone for the African continent. The stars are Africans, and the movies tell African stories with familiar African settings. The plots usually hover thematically around despair resulting from greed, corruption and love-gone-wrong and redemption through repentance and restitution. Witchcraft and the occult are often thrown in for exotic effect.

“We are telling our own stories in our own way,” Bond Emeruwa, one of Nollywood’s prolific directors, says. “That is the appeal both for the filmmakers and for the audience.”

And the world seems to be watching and waiting. Celebrated American actors Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover presented awards at the African Movie Academy Awards in May. Vanessa Williams presented at a previous edition. Also, Wesley Snipes has called to check out prospects for collaboration.

Nigeria’s film industry was the subject of the 2007 documentary “Welcome to Nollywood,” by director Jamie Meltzer. The documentary premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and also played at the Avignon Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival in the summer of 2007. It gives an overview of the industry and acknowledges the rapid and enterprising way that most Nollywood films are created, as well as its significance and contribution to the greater society.

Franco Sacchi’s 2007 documentary “This Is Nollywood” also features interviews with Nigerian filmmakers and actors as they discuss their industry, defend the types of films they make and detail the kind of impact they can have. Sacchi presented the film at the TED conference in 2007.

The 2007 Danish documentary “Good Copy Bad Copy” focuses substantially on Nollywood’s direct-to-DVD distribution and the industry’s reliance on off-the-shelf video editing equipment as opposed to the more costly traditional film process.

Nollywood was also profiled in a 2008 Canadian documentary “Nollywood Babylon,” co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal and produced by AM Pictures and National Film Board of Canada in association with the Documentary Channel. The documentary played in the Official Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009.

The African Movie Academy, a pan-African group which focuses on research, training and propagating filmmaking in Africa, pays tribute to Nigeria’s pioneering role in moviemaking in Africa by devoting an entire category—The Heart of Africa Award—to the best films made in Nigeria.

The African Movie Academy Awards is the biggest gathering of moviemakers across the African continent and the African Diaspora. The 2009 edition, held in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state in April, recorded the most continental presence so far, with entries coming from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun, Niger, Egypt, South Africa, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

Kenya was the star of the show. The Kenyan movie “From a Whisper,” which commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Aug, 7, 1998, terrorist bombing in Kenya in which over 250 people died and 5,000 were injured, won the most awards. The movie earned laurels in the best director, screenplay, picture, original soundtrack and achievement in editing categories.

“Gugu Andile,” a South African movie, won the award for best performing actor in a leading role, while the Egyptian movie “Seventh Heaven” won the best performing actor in a supporting role and achievement in sound awards. Uganda’s only entry, “Battle of the Soul,” won the achievement in visual effect award.

Nigeria took home eight awards in the best performance by an actress in a leading role, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, best child actor, achievement in costume, achievement in makeup and achievement in cinematography categories.

The Award Jury acknowledged that Nollywood “established the template for the creation of images produced by African filmmakers, for African audiences throughout the continent, its Diaspora and indeed the world.”

Nollywood has many critics, even in Nigeria. Because the movies are usually low budget, and shot under constraints of time and infrastructure, the quality is often far from the best. The acting is also sometimes amateurish, overdramatic and far from Oscar-grade. Some of the movies are overly religious, promoting evangelical Christianity or firebrand Islam. Many also argue that the plots are repetitive, and constantly hover around corruption, witchcraft and demonic possession, oftentimes reinforcing negative stereotypes about Nigeria, nay Africa. 

Nollywood is, however, not without its redeeming value. Apart from growing from nothing into an industry employing thousands, it has helped to liberate the creative energy and potentials of Nigerians, which otherwise would have remained untapped. It has indeed become the nation’s greatest cultural export.

And for a country like Nigeria, which is usually in the news for all the wrong reasons – religious unrest, environmental pollution, kidnapping of oil workers, official corruption, internet fraud, and the like, Nollywood, in spite of its shortcomings, is one good thing that has come out of “Nazareth.”


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By Iniobong Ekpe Bassey, August 30, 2009 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment
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I quite agree that there has been an improvement in nollywood but piracy is really affecting the system

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By Ed Harges, August 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

By ZombieNation, August 27 at 11:41 am:

Because they are producing hip-hop music, they’re musically “ahead”? I see. So…
a country’s music can be called “advanced” to the degree that it resembles music
which appeals to current American mass consumer tastes?

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By ZombieNation, August 27, 2009 at 8:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You should hear the music comming out of Nigeria, from the younger generation. They no longer classify their music as “African”, it is now “hip-hop” or “R&B”. The talent & sound quality is years ahead of their movie industry, and on par with any other.

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