BY NOAH TSIKA
In an industry as complex and productive as Nollywood, the pace of change is bracing, fueled by the latest technologies as well as by the ambitions of individual filmmakers. In the three years since TNS debuted in 2014, Nollywood has experienced a number of seismic shifts. Low-budget, rapidly produced, straight-to-video films remain common, as traditional business arrangements with the marketers of Idumota, Onitsha, and Alaba remain very much in place. But scenarios that were almost unthinkable four years ago are now realities. Nollywood is no longer officially excluded from FESPACO, arguably the most illustrious film festival on the African continent, whose ban on video submissions was finally—and loudly—contested in 2013, and overturned two years later.
More and more Nollywood films are entering the international film-festival circuit. In 2016, the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival embraced Nollywood with a special focus on film production in Lagos, screening a total of eight Nigerian films, including Abba Makama’s Green White Green, Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration, and Izu Ojukwu’s ’76. The festival also celebrated OC Ukeje and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama as “rising stars,” and it even featured a memorable onstage conversation with Genevieve Nnaji and Kunle Afolayan.
Nollywood’s Toronto debut was so successful that, the following year, the Nollywood Travel Film Festival was inaugurated in that city. Sponsored, in part, by the great Richard Mofe-Damijo, the Nollywood Travel Film Festival was established by Nollywood International Canada, an organization of Nigerian filmmakers living in Canada, whose aim is to “project Nollywood to North America.” 12 Nollywood films were screened at the 2017 edition of the festival, including Sunkanmi Adebayo’s Lost in London and Adze Ugah’s 10 Days in Sun City.
Nollywood’s growing presence on the international film-festival circuit is more than just a symbolic achievement, however. It affords filmmakers the much-needed opportunity to network with financiers and other powerful figures, and festival exposure often facilitates sales to various distributors. But Nollywood’s festival presence should not obscure its domestic box-office achievements. In 2016, Kemi Adetiba’s The Wedding Party became the top-grossing Nollywood film in Nigerian multiplex history, earning nearly 500 million naira against a budget of 60 million. According to the conventional wisdom, this success was a product purely of the film’s quality—and, indeed, The Wedding Party is wonderful entertainment, impeccably acted by a diverse ensemble cast, and a film that my own students, in my Nollywood classes, have called one of their favorites. But The Wedding Party benefited tremendously from its vertically integrated distributor, FilmOne, a powerful firm that owns its own multiplexes, and that therefore has an obvious incentive to keep its own productions in cinemas for as long as possible, often at the expense of other Nollywood films. As Nollywood continues to grow, we need to ask serious questions about how to cultivate a truly competitive marketplace for theatrical fare, one in which even independently produced Nigerian films can stand a chance of making money, even if they are not blessed with the marketing acumen of Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife Films.