Sunday, July 05, 2009

More Lessons from Nollywood...

We've discussed Nollywood - the Nigerian self-financed, bootstrapped film industry - before in reference to the documentary THIS IS NOLLYWOOD.

However, in skimming through the archives at TED, I discovered a few more links of interest to filmmakers of all types. I think this may also directly relate to Henshaw's post in regards to The New Drive In.

From their DVD Store (California Newsreel):

(emphasis mine)

The center of the Nigerian film industry is Lagos, a chaotic, sprawling metropolis of 15,000,000 people with a life expectancy of 51 years and average daily income under $1. Nollywood is a $250,000,000 year industry; each videodisk costs about $2 and sells an average of 50,000 copies (although a hit can reach hundreds of thousands of sales) with returns to the producers often seven to ten times the production costs. The industry is wholly self-sustaining, receiving no foreign or government assistance. Directors of these films are proud to admit that their intended audience is the average Nigerian not international film festivals.

There are an amazing 55,000,000 video players in Nigeria reaching 90% of the population.


At the beginning, a crew member boasts that they will show us step by step how Africans can make movies without any outside help faster than anyone else in the world. The film follows a typical shoot from first day to last, while the director, producer, actors, crew members and notables from the industry, tell us how it all works, why they do it and why they believe locally produced media is essential for Africa.

Acclaimed director, Bond Emerwua, has a nine day schedule and $20,000 to film an action adventure, Check Point. Set in a village outside Lagos, it tells the story of two innocent men robbed and shot by rogue cops who are eventually brought to justice. The film was made against the backdrop of a campaign to clean up the notoriously corrupt Nigerian police force. Emerwua says he makes ‘edutainment’ because it entertains to get an audience and recoup its costs, but at the same time conveys a relevant social message. Nigerian films regularly involve such controversial issues as AIDS, women’s rights, the occult and ethnic differences. Emerwua believes Nollywood films are the most effective way of reaching Nigeria’s vast population of 140,000,000, Africa’s largest.

Shooting conditions, we soon discover, are much more improvised and unpredictable than in the U.S., Hong Kong or Mumbai. Emerwua does not work in a studio but in the streets and countryside, while everyday life flows around him. Sometimes directors simply draft extras out of passing crowds. One day on location, a neighborhood mosque broadcasts non-stop prayers most of the day, bringing the production to a halt. A tropical downpour ruined another day’s shooting. Frequent power outages require that every crew take along a generator. The lead actor, a current Nollywood star, arrived several days late and could devote only four days to the project; apparently, he had accepted roles in three films simultaneously.

The producer and director remain surprisingly calm during all these costly and unforeseen delays explaining that in Nigeria ‘filmmaking is an economic adventure.’ Emerwua reflects that ‘In Nigeria, we do not count walls, we figure out ways to climb over them.’ Among all the chaos, he maintains a professional and cooperative set, managing to shoot a remarkable 13 scenes in one day.

Industry veteran Immanuel France describes how this unique system of producing films grew in response to a crisis in the Nigerian film industry at the beginning of the 1990s. Because of civil unrest people stopped attending public theatres and many closed. Then Nigerian television started importing cheap Latin American telenovelas rather than supporting original local production. Nigerian filmmakers had no choice but to find a way to produce inexpensive films for a new market.

Low cost video, an innovative technology for feature film production at the time, provided an answer and a new outlet: the VCR.

Before the rise of Nollywood, Nigerians saw mostly American Westerns, Hong Kong Kung Fu movies and Bollywood musicals. In contrast, Nollywood appeals to a hunger for indigenous stories with characters and situations audiences can easily relate to. The popularity of these films has spread across English-speaking Africa and their stars have become celebrities from Zambia to Ghana. Nollywood also provides a vital, constantly up-dated link between the vast Nigerian diaspora and their home culture. Thousands of Nigerian films are already available to immigrants to the United States both on DVD and over the internet.

The Nollywood phenomenon is doubtless an expression of the resourcefulness and vigor of Nigerian society. But it also raises questions about the potential social impact of commercial cinema, especially in the developing world. Does Nollywood in fact depict daily Nigerian life any more accurately or incisively than Hollywood portrays American society? Does it dare expose the kleptocracy which for forty years has kept its citizens impoverished by pocketing the nation:s immense oil wealth? As for cultural preservation, Nollywood narratives seem more influenced by international genres like the action thriller and the soap opera than Yoruba drama or Ibo folk tales. Can we reasonably hope that a cinematic Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka will emerge out of the frenetic deal-making of Lagos? Superstar Saint Obi optimistically predicts that “I believe very soon we are not only going to have better movies, we’ll have that original Nigerian movie.” For the time being, hard-pressed Nigerians are at least getting their own version of the vicarious excitement and undemanding escapism, which have become the prime commodities of the Information Age. For us, these films may give clearer insights into the apprehensions and aspirations of the average Nigerian than any documentary or political drama.
Yes - there is a pattern emerging to all these posts of mine and to the world which shapes them...

What are YOU going to do about it? How are YOU going to go over the walls?

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