October 02, 2015

Nollywood @ 55:


Solomon Elusoji
In the beginning, very few imagined that Nigeria’s film industry would evolve to what it is today. The steady influx of foreign movies seemed to have captured audiences across the country; but, 55 years after independence, the eccentric creativity and genius of Nigerians has catapulted Nollywood – a name derived from America’s Hollywood – into the cynosure of all eyes, home and abroad.
Today, the industry is the world's third largest producer of feature films. Although, unlike Hollywood and India’s Bolllywood, which are usually produced with massive budgets and extended durations, Nollywood movies are made on shoe-string budgets within very fleeting durations. An average production takes just 10 days and costs approximately $15,000. Still, that has not taken away the shine off the industry. Some Nigerian filmmakers, like Kunle Afolayan and Biyi Bandele, have even dared the Hollywood model by investing heavily in film productions, and have pulled it off with varying levels of success. The land is green.
Film as a medium first arrived Nigeria in the late 19th century, in the form of peephole motion picture, the technology being employed then. These were soon replaced in the early 20th century with improved motion picture technology. The first set of films screened at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, in 1903. As at 1954, mobile cinema vans played to at least 3.5 million people in the country, and films being produced by the Nigerian Film Unit were screened for free at the 44 available cinemas.
After Nigeria's independence in 1960, the cinema business rapidly expanded, with new cinema houses being established. This led to a boom in Nigerian content screened at the theatres in the late 1960s into the 1970s, especially productions from Western Nigeria, owing to the transition of former theatre practitioners, such as Hubert Ogunde and Moses Olaiya, to the big screen.
The cinemas, in the 70s and 80s, were largely owned by Lebanese businessman who were content with screening foreign content. From Odeon Cinema at Oke Bola to Scala Cinema at Sabo, Indian, American and Chinese films dominated the screens. Most commentators have described this era as Nigeria’s golden age of cinema.
Later, due to several factors, including economic hardship and large scale insecurity at night, the cinemas started to shut down and the popularity of the big screen started to dwindle. Around the same time, home video technology was becoming pervasive among Nigerians.
In 1992, Kenneth Nnebue, popularly referred to as the father of Nollywood, decided to produce a film and release it straight to video. It was an outlandish move which many predicted would fail. But it didn’t. Nnebue’s Living in Bondage became an instant hit among Nigerians, and the home video revolution was born.
Nollywood has been built on this – the massive production of cheap films released straight to video – and although it critics continue to scoff at its aggressive capitalist drive, the industry continues to wax stronger. In fact, the Nollywood model has been exported and adapted across the African continent. Video-film industries in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, have adopted the model. Other countries include: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Also, over the years, some of Nigeria’s best literature has been adapted into films, just as it is done in Hollywood. These include: The Concubine (1966) written by Elechi Amadi, and adapted into a movie by Andy Amenechi; Things Fall Apart (1958) written by Chinua  Achebe; Maami (1987) written by Femi Osofisan and adapted into a movie by Tunde Kelani in 2012; Kongi’s Harvest (1965) written by Wole Soyinka, and adapted into a movie directed by Ossie Davis; and, most recently, Half of A Yellow Sun (2007), written by Chimamanda Adichie, and adapted into a movie directed by Biyi  Bandele in 2013.
In the mid 2000s, Nollywood became the second largest film industry in the world, in terms of the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and only behind India. Since then, efforts have been made to reborn the film industry into a quality-oriented one. Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine, released in 2009, was a step in that direction; more cinemas have been built to accommodate these local blockbusters.
Interestingly, more Nollywood directors have turned their attention towards making higher quality films. These are sometimes referred to as ‘New Nollywood’. These films are seen more widely than standard Nollywood movies, and are accessible to non-African audiences. Apart from Afolayan, some of these new breed of directors include: Obi Emelonye, Jeta Amata, Stephanie Okereke, and Mahmood Ali-Balogun.
The budgets for these films have also increased considerably, ranging from $250,000 to $750,000. The production cycles are also much longer. The ‘New Nollywood’ films struggle to be distinct from the ubiquitous low-budget video format films that have been the industry’s mainstay for decades.
Now, Nollywood can also be watched on pay-TV networks and free-to-air broadcasters across the continent and beyond. South Africa’s M-Net, which broadcasts across Africa, has channels dedicated to Nollywood. Intrepid distributors, mostly from the African diaspora, have created video-on-demand platforms for Nollywood. One example is iROKO TV, which continues to be described as the Netflix of Africa. This has increased accessibility to African Diaspora audiences.
Even Netflix, the biggest on-demand film retailer in the United States has acquired a number of Nigerian films, indicative of the platform’s realisation of Nollywood’s popularity and commercial potential across the world.
Still, today, Nollywood is still renowned, more for its quantity than quality. The journey to film Utopia is still a long one.
Unfortunately, after 55 years of frenetic progress, one of the major problems still facing the industry is Piracy. In a recent speech delivered recently, renowned Filmmaker, Wale Adenuga noted that piracy continues to be a “hydra-headed monster” which has defied countless proffered solutions.
According to him: “A survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said that 9 out of 10 copies of Nigerian films are pirated. This has frustrated so many practitioners to the extent that many have jumped out of the boat to join politics or take up some other form of employment.
“Real passion for acting is fast becoming a thing of the past as a lot of our actors move on to big spenders the moment they become popular. The truth is that less than 10% of practitioners make money from filmmaking. Majority of the Lekki houses and posh cars that we see are acquired from other sources other than filmmaking.”
He blamed the government for not paying enough attention to the sector, dspite being one of its finest public relations tool to the wider world.
“Governments, both national and state have done little or nothing to assist the Nigerian film industry until the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan initiated a N3billion intervention,” Adenuga said. “It is true that some state governments have, over the years, supported individual practitioners but there is no widespread impact of such support on the industry.”
As hinted above, the most significant move made by government to boost Nollywood’s fortunes was made in 2013, when then President Goodluck Jonathan unveiled a N3 billion package to help turnaround the industry.
Meanwhile, the current administration, led by Muhammadu Buhari, has also pledged to help fight piracy in Nollywood.
In a statement released by Femi Adesina, the administration’s top media aide, Buhari said: “Nollywood is making progress. We should work with them. Unless they are backed, they will be ruined by pirates who want to reap where they have not sowed. They have built an industry with their own sweat. It is therefore incumbent on us to give them the necessary support.”
The Nigerian Bar Association is also making moves to cleanse Nollywood of pirates. The President of the NBA, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, has noted that the association would partner with stakeholders in Nollywood.
“Having noted that piracy undermines national development, the NBA shall work more closely with the talent-based industries including movie, music, arts and sports to curb the menace of piracy. We also call on government to strengthen institutions set up for the eradication of the menace,’’ Alegeh said at the 2015 NBA Annual General Conference held in Abuja.
The NBA president also said the conference agreed to take steps to get more lawyers interested in the talent-based industry by providing legal support to it. He said that to facilitate the collaboration, a committee had been set up to engage and define a platform for rendering meaningful services to the entertainment industry.
As Nigeria turns 55, Nollywood continues to wax stronger, pushing boundaries. Most of its major faces, the likes of Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and OC Ukeje, have become famous across the African continent, and even globally. Despite its multifarious travails, the sun continues to rise for the film industry.
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