Emerging Talents: Nollywood and the future of African Cinema

Emerging Talents: Nollywood and the future of African Cinema

A paper by

Victor Okhai

Director, International Film and Broadcast Academy, Lagos

at The BOB TV 5th African Film and Television Programmes Expo on Tuesday 11th March 2008 at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.

Introduction

A paper like this is not only timely, it throws up a lot of challenges for an industry such as we find ourselves in.

In tackling this topic, I shall be taking a look at what is African cinema, then I shall attempt to deconstruct the phenomenon called Nollywood then finally I shall be exploring the emerging talents and the future of African cinema in the light of the Nollywood phenomenon.

What is African cinema?

This question raises a lot of posers.

Is “African cinema” cinema by Africans including those outside Africa?

Is “African cinema” cinema based on Afrocentric stories and setting?

Is “African cinema” cinema according to “St.funders?”

Some have classified it according to the four linguo-political groupings of Anglophone, Francophone, Arabophone and Lusophone for want of a central unifying theme to qualify as African cinema.

Is it the Eurocentric stereotype of Tarzan or The gods must be crazy?

There are as many answers as there questions on this issue.

For me African cinema is that cinema by Africans for Africans, which cuts across the socio-cultural boundaries of the continent, defying all artificial geographical and political barriers capturing the essence of the African tales by moonlight with themes which know no colour, language, or nationality but which by themselves are a reflection in the mind of the individual of his own experiences and environment. This is what Nollywood has come to represent on the continent and beyond. This is the raison d’etre of its monumental success across the continent and beyond in spite of the so-called mediocre standards of its production quality.

The Nollywood phenomenon

At the very heart of the Nollywood phenomenon is a concept in African philosophy called ontological solidarity, where the strength of one is derived from the group. Modern management calls it synergy. I suspect the concept was borrowed from Africa but as usual we have not been credited.

When the industry started, the early players did not have money, only a burning passion to tell their tales this time not by moonlight but by kleiglights. The African concept of “we till your farm today, tomorrow you all till mine” helped push many dreams through.

On matters of standards, Nollywood has taught the rest of Africa that the man with the word processor and the man with the pencil are both writers and that if you tell a compelling enough story with your pencil, people will ultimately reckon with you. Before now on the rest of the continent, in many countries, not more than two films were shot averagely in a year, and usually by the same people who would wait in some cases for up to two years for a grant application to be approved by gate-keepers who determine the kinds of stories emerging from the film makers. It is no wonder therefore that although they may make waves in foreign film festival circuits, these films usually did not make sense to the ordinary African and they are usually a financial failure, thus precipitating a vicious circle of dependency syndrome.

Nollywood has come to shatter the myth that one must have a multimillion dollar budget to shoot a film. It has demonstrated creativity in its production and distribution strategies: unique only to it and very effective in its environment. The success of the Nollywood model attracted first the jeer, and now the cheer of the rest of the world because of its independent and creative home grown strategy of developing its industry. Today American movies have lost their dominance. In most African homes, street side theatres, hotel rooms and television stations, Nollywood has taken over. Africa Magic the Trans-African movie channel is proof enough. There is a cultural neo-colonisation of the African continent by Nollywood films. People now speak Ibo words and Pidgin English in far-off places like South Africa as a result of this. It is now hip to shout Igwe!!!

The rest of Africa and indeed the world can now see through these movies, opulence never before imagined in a third world country. There is now a paradigm shift from the perception of Africa as a derelict jungle, with monkeys and malnourished children to a destination both for tourism and business.

People have often argued that distribution is the bane of Nollywood. They argue that we need to go to the cinemas before we can start making real money. They forget that movies like music can either be sold on the streets for private enjoyment or enjoyed in night clubs or theatres. For the African, the theatre is not a part of our culture. We do not go to the theatre to watch performances as entertainment or as a habit. Performances are a ritual, for ceremonial purposes and festivals. Travelling theatres like the Alarinjo are just that! They pull the crowds as they move from place to place. If they were like western companies that run plays for months in places like Broadway, they would be out of business before they even take off.

Traditionally, when we visit, we sit around and jist. Catching up on old times, sharing the latest about ourselves and others. We love to talk! The whiteman may suggest going to the movies as an evening out or dinner somewhere. We would not come visiting with a bottle of wine like they would, instead we would bring along the latest Nollywood movie or ask if our host or the neighbourhood rental club has the latest title featuring our favourite Nollywood star. As we jist while watching, the issues arising from the movie would set the agenda for our discussion for the rest of the visit. This is at the very heart of the success and secret of Nollywood. It is a socio-cultural thing.

What we need to do is recognize this socio-cultural dimension to the phenomenon and see how we can package these products like Coca-Cola and put it in the hands of as many people all over the globe as possible, and not attempt to borrow a distribution strategy that is alien to our socio-cultural realities. That is not to say that other distribution strategies will not work, but we know that we have great competition in the churches that need the same space.

So successful is Nollywood as a phenomenon that the rest of Africa and indeed the world is beginning to consider digital video as an alternative for indigent but gifted film makers with a compelling story to tell. Companies like Kodak, who are traditionally dominant players in the celluloid format are becoming worried and for good reasons too. Last year they were in Nigeria for Shoot 2007. They came with a message. “Nollywood is not among the top 50 countries in movie production.” Our media bought the lie and magnified it. Our colleagues were worried at the statistics. For once it seemed like we had been living a lie. What they did not realize was that Kodak was telling Nollywood that it was not among its top 50 customers. Of course they are right, but if we stop being who we are and attempt to be Hollywood we shall lose our very essence. We obviously will not be able to compete.

The Emerging Talents And The Future Of African Cinema In The Light Of The Nollywood Phenomenon.

The concept of Nollywood, as a generic term has come to symbolise the New Wave African Cinema. It has thrown up and unleashed on the rest of the continent a whole new set of movie talents and entrepreneurs. It represents freedom and economic emancipation. It puts back power into the hands of the African film maker who knows it only takes a digital camcorder and possibly a laptop with the relevant software for him to tell his story. And… if he dares believe he can live, no longer the American dream but the Nollywood dream.

The convergence of platforms from digital to celluloid is bridging the divide that once existed. This is making access to theatres in the west and bigger film festivals easier for African film makers. More and more festivals are accepting films shot on digital video as they have come to find out that great stories are coming from the continent through this medium.

Some of the greatest beneficiaries of this paradigm shift are poorer African countries especially the francophone who were looking up to France for film funding but who are now shooting their own films using their own resources. At the last Berlinale, a Uganda film shot on digital video was shown at the Panorama. It was the first feature they claimed that was being shot in Uganda on digital video. They did not have enough money but they applied the Nollywood spirit.

It has demonstrated that if we draw from communalism which is native to Africa as opposed to the western concept of capitalism we may be able to make impossibilities possible.

The Americans have finished telling their stories, they only have violent shoot-em-up flicks and computer generated visual effects to sell. The world is looking up to Nollywood – nay the emerging talents from Africa to inject a breathe of fresh air into movieland.

Are we ready? Thank you very much!

4 thoughts on “Emerging Talents: Nollywood and the future of African Cinema

  • At the very heart of the Nollywood phenomenon is a concept in African philosophy called ontological solidarity, where the strength of one is derived from the group. Modern management calls it synergy. I suspect the concept was borrowed from Africa but as usual we have not been credited. – you suspect the concept of co-operation was borrowed from africa…. i think every culture in the world managed to work out that co-operation is a good thing…

    It is no wonder therefore that although they may make waves in foreign film festival circuits, these films usually did not make sense to the ordinary African …. so the films of sembene ousmane and rasmane ouedraogo did not make sense to Africans????

    Nollywood has come to shatter the myth that one must have a multimillion dollar budget to shoot a film – no – every country has been making digital films as long as digital cameras existed and there has always been a history of low budget film making in countries since the dawn of cinema… b-movies etc. nollywood is merely the nigerian example of this.

    we can package these products like Coca-Cola and put it in the hands of as many people all over the globe as possible, and not attempt to borrow a distribution strategy that is alien to our socio-cultural realities… so marketing, shipping, releases in cinemas round the world, and selling dvds in shops round the world is alien to “socio-cultural realities” of Nigerians. Every other country seems to manage it so I fail to see why Nigeria should be any different. It’s called business.

    As we jist while watching, the issues arising from the movie would set the agenda for our discussion for the rest of the visit. This is at the very heart of the success and secret of Nollywood. It is a socio-cultural thing…. people from other cultures dont talk about issues raised in films… thats just a ridiculous statement.

    It has demonstrated that if we draw from communalism which is native to Africa as opposed to the western concept of capitalism … yet you want to package these films like coca-cola, you want distribution, you want to to take them to the West. Thats called capitalism. Its the two fundamental aspects of film making – creating a team to make it and then selling it to be paid for everyones hard work.

    The Americans have finished telling their stories, they only have violent shoot-em-up flicks and computer generated visual effects to sell. … no they do not only have those types of film.

    muddled,showing a lack of knowledge of the history of cinema or current world trends, very dismissive of the Burkinabe film industry, and both contradictory and very naive on economic issues.

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