Nollywood, a new documentary premiering on Al Jazeera English on Tuesday, 28 July 2015, is an inside look at Nigeria’s prolific film industry, which makes more films than Hollywood – 50 a week. Only India’s Bollywood makes more.
Among others, Nollywood interviews leading directors 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 Omeli, Mercy Johnson, Olu Jacobs and Ramsey Nouah.
Traditionally Nollywood films were made for as little as $10 000, then released on DVD and sold cheaply on the streets, reaching audiences of millions. Since Living in Bondage kick-started the sector in 1992, Nollywood has developed into a $5.1 billion dollar industry, with roughly two billion viewers around the world.
“In Nigeria, and in the rest of Africa, people watch Nollywood before watching an American blockbuster,” says Victor Okhai, director of the International Film and Broadcast Academy Lagos. “In France, they would watch Hollywood before they would watch French films. In Germany, they watch Hollywood before they watch German films. And so on. What we’ve demonstrated here is that with powerful storytelling we’ve been able to conquer what none of the others have been able to do.”
Nollywood traces the disputed roots of the industry, from Nigeria’s colonial film industry to its pioneering TV industry, to its traveling theatre industry, which became a travelling cinema industry thanks to the likes of Dr Hubert Ogunde and Eddie Afolayan.
“There are around 150-160 million people together in a geographical space, with more than 400 languages,” says director Tunde Kelani about Nigeria. “Having benefitted from 50 years of successful television, being the first in Africa, prompted by a collapse of the economy and a loss of infrastructure, and then with an alternative technology – something has to come out of that.”
“It’s an industry that has built itself by itself,” says actress Genevieve Nnaji, a previous Best Actress winner at The Africa Movie Academy Awards. “It’s an industry made by the people for the people, the African people.”
Director Kunle Afolayan ushered in a new wave of Nigerian cinema in 2009 with The Figurine, a Nollywood film that was acclaimed for raising the industry’s production values and ambition. “The game has changed again because people are beginning to consider production value as important,” says Afolayan, who has also directed hits likePhone Swap and October 1.
This rise in production values has coincided with an increased interest in films for cinema, rather than straight-to-DVD releases. “The cinema is the new culture in Nigeria,” say director James Omokwe. ”I think the last count was 12 or 13 in Nigeria, and they’re quality multiplexes where Nollywood is shown alongside Hollywood films.”
With online distribution bringing international audiences closer than ever, Nollywood filmmakers are hungry to crossover globally. “I consider myself one of the new generation of Nigerian filmmakers who are taking the magic of Nollywood to the rest of the world,” says Obi Emelonye. “We’re trying to up our game in terms of the quality. It is a very exciting time to be an African filmmaker and Nollywood is leading the way in African entertainment.”