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The Myth of Nollywood and the Rise of Nigerian Cinema

The Myth of Nollywood and the Rise of Nigerian Cinema

By Rob Aft, Guest Blogger

Rob H. Aft is President of Compliance Consulting, an LA-based firm specialized in international film finance, banking and distribution management. He works closely with the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization and has spoken at conferences for them in Nigeria, Indonesia, Jamaica, Thailand and Mexico.

Nigeria should be proud of the quality of their new crop of theatrical filmmakers. I have visited Nigeria as a guest of their film community several times and maintain close contact with many of the practitioners there. The Nigerian film industry is moving past Nollywood. Nigerian filmmakers are currently producing a limited but growing number of high quality films for theatrical audiences. Directors like Kunle Afolayan (The Figurine), Jeta Amata (the musical Inale)Caroline Chikeze, star of Inale Chineze Anyaene (Ije), Izu Ojukwu (The Child), Jeta Amata (Black Gold)…

and others are making films with budgets between $250,000 and $750,000, often with international casts and locations. It is predicted that at some point in 2011 a Nigerian film will be budgeted at over $1,000,000. In 2010 there were perhaps only 5-6 films made in this range but that number is growing along with the screen count.

The number of screens in Nigeria is increasing at an incredible rate (by some reports it is doubling every year though there are still fewer than fifty high quality screens in about ten venues in Lagos, Abuja and a few other cities), and Nigerians are filling cinemas at $6-10 a ticket to watch home-grown films.

Nigerians have proven their leadership in writing (Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinke and internationally acclaimed novelist, Chinua Achebe), music (Fela, King Sunny Ade) and the visual arts (from Benin Bronzes to Ben Enwonwu and a thriving contemporary art scene) and now they are proving their potential in film.

Much has been written over the past several years of the status of “Nollywood” (Nigeria’s direct-to-video industry) as the #2 film producer in the world based on a very flawed UNESCO report comparing the number of extreme low budget films produced by Nigeria’s producer/director/star/marketers to the films theatrically released in the U.S., U.K. and other countries. This has done a disservice to the emerging theatrical Nigerian film industry by emphasizing quantity over quality.

I was prompted to write this piece because of a recent article in The Economist, “Lights, Camera, Africa”, December 10, 2010 (http://www.economist.com/node/1772312) again citing this production figure with no thought to whether it even made sense that Nigeria produced more films than the U.S. or letting readers know that the figure dates from 2006. As this excerpt makes clear, the report is clearly flawed in comparing major films to direct-to-video films:

According to the [2006] survey, Bollywood produced 1,091 feature-length films in 2006 compared to 872 productions (in video format) from Nigeria’s film industry, which is commonly referred to as Nollywood. In contrast, the United States produced 485 major films.

To cite such a report in late 2010 is ridiculous, particularly since my sources in Nigeria tell me that the number of films produced peaked in 2008 and has been in steep decline ever since due to piracy and changing consumer tastes. The article presents a neo-colonial vision of African film (damning with faint praise) that does not do justice to what is really happening in Nigeria any more than analyzing straight-to-DVD features in the U.S. would tell you anything about the quality of U.S. films.

I hope this is the last article focusing on how many low-budget films were produced in 2006 and that serious magazines like “The Economist” will start to recognize the emerging, high-quality theatrical film industry quickly growing there. The theatrical filmmakers owe a debt to their Nollywood forefathers but the future of Nigeria’s film industry is clearly in their hands.


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