BY MICHAEL CHIMA EKENYERENGOZI
“Nollywood,” a new documentary that premiered on Al Jazeera English on July 28, 2015, is now available to watch in full online. It provides an insider look at Nigeria’s prolific film industry, which makes more films than Hollywood – 50 a week. Only India’s Bollywood makes more. Contributing to the documentary are leading Nollywood directors like James Omokwe, Kunle Afolayan, Mildred Okwo, Obi Emelonye, Stanlee Ohikhuare, Tunde Kelani, and Udoka Oyeka, as well as acclaimed actors Bimbo Manuel, Genevieve Nnaji, Joke Silva, Kiki Omeili, Mercy Johnson, Olu Jacobs and Ramsey Nouah.
I don’t know if you have read Femi Odugbemi’s “Is Nollywood Documentary?” published in the catalogue of the 10th Abuja International Film Festival last year and also published in the first edition of the internationally circulated NOLLYWOOD MIRROR®. Mr. Odugbemi’s critical analysis of what Nollywood has done and what it represents actually defined Nollywood as a genre as many others have in fact compared it to the popular genre of Onitsha Market Literature based, because of the social and cultural perspectives: “Every form of storytelling is really trying to articulate a culture. Nollywood is authentically documenting Africa for the world. For non-Africans Nollywood’s stories are establishing a counter-narrative that proves that the story of Africa doesn’t start and end with wars and poverty and corruption. Yes, there is wealth under the ground but also there is a wealth of talent and progressive ambition that is changing the face of our cities, the strength of our governments and the capacities of our various peoples to be strong voices and influences in this age of global technology, invention and competitive commerce. For Africans living in the Diaspora, Nollywood has for long represented much more than entertainment. It has been their link to the homeland. Nollywood films have been the ready references to their children and neighbours of the details of their cultural identity. How else can they describe what it means to be an Itsekiri, Zulu, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or Swahili? How better can they explain the way we dress, the way we speak or for that matter the values that we hold dear that stand us different from their host communities in Europe, America or Asia? Nollywood has proven much more than cinema. It is Africa’s voice to the world, a raised standard taking hold of our own representation to correct decades of misrepresentation. It is beyond entertainment, It is about identity.” ~ Femi Odugbemi
Nollywood has become synonymous with the Nigerian film industry, but Nollywood is more of a genre of the Nigerian film industry developed out of necessity when Nigerian filmmakers could no longer afford the costs and technical challenges of making movies on 16mm and 35mm film cameras in the late 1980s caused by the downturn in the economy. They found a solution in the availability of the affordable Sony Betacam SP, Panasonic VHS, JVC Compact VHS camcorders and other video recorders that made the veteran Nigerian filmmaker Chief Eddie Ugbomah to call them “videographers” and not filmmakers since they are simply shooting straight to video and for video players and not on film for the cinemas. To film purists, “videography” is not cinematography, but to Nollywood filmmakers, “videography” is “the equivalent of cinematography, but with images recorded on electronic media instead of film stock”. And with that they have gone ahead to make their genre the second largest movie industry in the world by the number of features produced annually regardless of the format.
As Onitsha Market Literature of the 1950s and 60s was the first indie publishing industry in Africa that launched the first self-published authors in Nigeria like the late Cyprian Ekwensi among others, Nollywood launched the first indie filmmaking industry in Africa and part of the vanguard of the digital filmmaking revolution started from the early 1990s.
For more on Onitsha Market Literature, read the book on it by the late Prof. Emmanuel Obiechina.
The Nigerian film industry predates Nollywood and actually flourished from the 1970s to 1980s when more thousands of people queued for hours to watch films by the great Hubert Ogunde and Adeyemi Afolayan, aka Ade Love of blessed memory, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Dr. Ola Balogun and Joseph Abiodun Babajide, aka Jab Adu whose “Bisi Daughter of The River” is still the highest grossing Nigerian film to date.The film pulled more crowds than any recent Nigerian film, because there were more cinemas in those days, including open air cinemas and both the poor and rich could afford to go to the cinemas to watch American, Indian and Nigerian movies and the cinemas were not in middle-class shopping malls like the few cinemas in Nigeria today.
Some notable Nigerian filmmakers don’t like to label their films shot on film as Nollywood, because to them Nollywood is a video movie industry. So, anything on video is Nollywood and anything on film is not Nollywood. And another basis is the quality of what they call Nollywood. Any world class movie in quality of the cinematography is not Nollywood to them, but any substandard movie in the mode of the 1990s videos is Nollywood.
So, their objection to be labelled Nollywood is defined by their derogatory definition of it. And seriously, I don’t blame them, because once you see the classic Nollywood movie like those flicks shot in “Surulerewood” (Emem Isong and company understand what I mean), Asaba, Enugu, Aba and Owerri, you can tell how the flicks will end even without seeing the last scenes. Many of them look like parodies of those produced in the 1990s and early quarter of the 21st century. They are screaming, shouting and running round in circles in similar locations. What I call the African Gothic movies. The popular comedian AY likes kicking their butts in his live shows.
Most of these Nollywood movies look like the B movies of the earlier years of Hollywood. But lest we forget, the B movies of Hollywood were also shot on celluloid. Therefore, what determines the quality of a movie is not the camera, but the professional expertise of the filmmaker. We have seen better films made with digital cameras than film cameras.
“The technology and how it’s changing and the possibilities that are coming. This film Now, I’m shooting on a digital camera. First film I’ve shot digitally, because, frankly, it’s the first camera I’ve worked with that I’ve felt gives me something I can’t get on film. Whether I’ll shoot on film again, I don’t know. [Shooting on Digital] gives me a lot more options. It’s got more latitude, it’s got better color rendition. It’s faster. I can immediately see what I’m recording. I can time that image on set with a color-calibrated monitor. That coloring goes through the whole system, so it’s tied with the meta-data of the image. So that goes through the whole post-production chain, so it’s not a case of being in a lab and having to sit and then time a shot on a shot-by-shot because this has already got a control on it that’s set the timing for the shot, you know?” ~ Roger Deakins, Nine-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer in “Roger Deakins on Digital vs. 35mm: ‘Whether I’ll Shoot On Film Again, I Don’t Know'” on http://www.slashfilm.com/
Nollywood is an art-form, but it is more of craft than art. How? Like a B movie is not an Art film even though it is a form of film making.
You cannot compare the annoying 2002 Nollywood flick “Sharon Stone” starring Nollywood diva Genevieve Nnaji to the award winning “B for Boy” by Chika Anadu whose debut is more highly rated than Chineze Anyaene’s “Ijé – The Journey.” Yes. both are gripping dramas, but thematically “B for Boy” is more critically acclaimed by film critics. And of course, it would be an insult to compare any of the typical Nollywood flicks to them.
The classic Nollywood movie is low budget; with N3 million (less than US$20, 000), you produce it within a week and supply the CDs and DVDs to the marketers in Idumota, Alaba and Eweka and other Nollwyood sales outlets and make over N4 million and rush to make another one. That is why we have producers and actors who have lost count of their movies and cannot remember the titles. It is more quantity than quality.
In fact, the multiple award winning “Champions of Our Time” by Macnuel Productions was not made as a Nollywood movie according to the award winning screenwriter and producer Chidi Nwokeabia. So, even some filmmakers in Nollwyood agree that there is a difference between a typical Nollywood movie and non-Nollywood movie. So, to them Nollywood movies are not world class films, but local movies made for the home entertainment of the poor masses and not for the class conscious elites who prefer foreign movies than Nollwyood movies. In fact, many of them swear that they don’t watch Nollywood movies. But heaven knows they are lying.
“You think say this one na another Nollywood movie? Noo. My film no be Nollywood o. Na international movie,” said a young upcoming director in Nigeria. And I smirked.
Does the budget and target audience define what makes a Nollywood movie?
If it is low budget and meant for the poor masses who can afford CDs and DVDs, but cannot afford going to the few cinemas at the middle class shopping malls, then it is Nollywood. But if it is high budget (by local standards) and meant for the cinemas before distributing it in tapes, it is not Nollywood?
This is another erroneous definition, because you can make world class movie without breaking the bank.
“Anybody can shoot cinema-quality imagery for less than the price of a computer.” ~ Mike Eisenberg in “Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital” on http://screenrant.com/
What determines the final result is not your budget, but your professional expertise and then you can decide whether you are making it for Nollywood or for Hollywood. And I look forward to the fine day when a Nollywood movie will break box office records in Hollywood.
In conclusion, Nollywood is a genre of the Nigerian film industry and not the Nigerian film industry, which also includes Kannywood and… Surelerewood.
Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima is the Publisher/Editor of NOLLYWOOD MIRROR®