Nollywood: Nigeria’s Rainforest of Film

NollywoodFeature

What’s next? The Vatican’s Holy-wood? ISIS’ BeatInfidelsToDeathWithLargePiecesOfWood?

Ring announcer voice: Introducing, in the green and white trunks, the undisputed African champion of film, weighing in at between 1,000-2,400 feature length motion pictures per year, with an average budget of $9,000 per title , second only in combined sales and size to the mighty MPAA-slayer Bollywood itself, it’s the most fascinating and gritty movie industry going – excepting maybe that of the clandestine ‘adult entertainment’ collective in San Fernando Valley… Make some noise for the mean, lean, sequel spewing machine, Nolly ‘the Nigerian Holly’ Wood! Let’s get ready tooooo rumbleeee (in the jungle) (which actually took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, not Nigeria, but they are pretty close together and borders are a mere figment of society’s imagination so take that Mufasa! Your ‘kingdom’ means nothing to me).

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Resume normal reading voice: Having never heard of Nollywood it came as a surprise to learn that this Nigerian alternative to the Western film factory has, in less than two decades, completely overtaken its inspiration in terms of viewership and workforce. With dozens of films being released in cinemas every week (at its peak an average of 46.2, to be mathematically precise) there is no shortage of job opportunities for anyone wishing to turn their skills to the lucrative Nollywood scene. Skills aren’t necessary, actually. Just be a person and you can get hired. Many of the war movies have so many extras that it looks like a genuine coup. In Nollywood it really is a free-for-all; actors and writers and producers of films are often the same person, and with no corporate pre-requisites or audience standards, they can just shoot everything with the sort of caffeinated handicam that would see Western cinemas drenched in pools of motion sickness-induced vomit. Top Nollywood directors can barely keep track of their own catalogue, some having made 50, 60 or 100 plus features. Somehow they all sell. In the hundreds of thousands.Oftentimes the filmmakers can be found on the streets selling their own works.  A lack of copyright laws in Nigeria threatens the profitability of certain films due to piracy, but a de facto fair trade system has developed and mostly people are willing to shell out for anything produced in country.

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An insatiable demand for these films across all of Africa drives the scarcely believable prolificacy of Nollywood. Wakaliwood, Uganda’s guerrilla action movie scene, is its only visible competitor on the continent. Film academics, the names of which your author cannot be bothered to look up again, believe it is only a matter of time before a Nollywood movie goes mainstream either across the internet or through international festival circuits. Not that many aren’t readily available on YouTube – in fact, new ones are uploaded daily (see Vines at the bottom of this page) – but there aren’t very many ‘good’ ones.  Eventually competing producers and directors will make something of a quality comparable to American technical standards. Perhaps it will be a crazy action film, or  an important historical drama, but just as there was with the Chinese and Indian markets there will be a breakthrough sooner or later.

Cast members perform a night scene at the making of an epic film titled 'October 1' at a bush location in Akure, southwest Nigeria August 26, 2013.REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye(NIGERIA)

They may not do sci-fi epics or worship superheroes, but who needs any more of that?  Through their enthusiasm for storytelling and interaction with the fandom they keep people buying new movies week after week, five at a time. We cannot look down on their cinema as inferior because of low value aesthetics – which are, admittedly, rib-achingly funny –  or poor acting, because they do not have the same resources. It is all contextual and cultural anyway. If you screened Blood Diamond to a cross section of African cinemagoers, they would probably die laughing. Nollywood is on the up and up, and it’s anything but niche. Meanwhile, Hollywood continues to operate on its ‘might is right’ policy, but it can do one.

As promised, Vines.

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