Saturday, October 20, 2007

Underground Railroad Film Series: Stop #3

The Langston Hughes African American Film Festival Underground Railroad Film Series presents

THIS IS NOLLYWOOD, Thursday, November 15, 2007 – location TBA. Please call (206)326-1088 or visit or for updated news about location. $5 suggested donation at the door.

56 minutes, 2007, Nigeria. Producer: Franco Sacchi and Robert Caputo. Associate Producer: Aimee Corrigan; Director: Franco Sacchi

First came Hollywood, then Bollywood and now Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, which released 2000 feature features in 2006 alone. Where else can you shoot a full-length dramatic film for $10,000 in 7 days? Until recently little known outside its own country, THIS IS NOLLYWOOD explains why Nigerian video production is becoming recognized as a phenomenon with broad implications for the cultural and economic development of Africa.

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.

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.

This documentary film is a partial but intensely focused image from a dense picture—the current cinematic phenomenon in Nigeria which its title proclaims. With an admirable sense of humor, it captures the gritty and confounding optimism that keeps Nigeria going, against all rational expectations. In its innovative approach to narrative and the contingencies of production characteristic of the industry, This is Nollywood becomes the drama it seeks to document, without losing direction.

Akin Adesokan, Indiana University

This is Nollywood captures the problems and dynamism of making movies in Nigeria while giving a vibrant introduction to this fast growing movie industry. Dealing with rainstorms, missing stars, and power cuts, we see the pressure on Nigerian moviemakers and the guerilla filmmaking they have invented to cope. As the director Bond Emeruwa says, “In Nollywood we don’t count the walls, we have learned ways to climb them”.

Brian Larkin, Barnard College; Columbia University