Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hooray for Nollywood!

It's something of a surprise to find that the third largest film industry in the world (after Hollywood and Bollywood) is located in Nigeria, and is indeed called Nollywood. The industry churns out a staggering average of 200 video movies per month and produces something like $250 million in revenue. In terms of Africa, the only other competitor is the Ghanian film industry, although the two share actors and crew on several productions.

Nigeria is a country on the move. They've maintained a democratic government since 1999, after having gained independence from the British in 1960, and then going through a long civil war and series of military coups. Since then, the country has become a major trading partner (having oil reserves) with the United States and a one of the fastest emerging economies whose growth this year should be about 8%. Between 2005 and 2007, GDP nearly doubled ($170.7 billion to $292.6 billion), and in 2005, Nigeria became the first country in history to pay off its debt to the Paris Club.

The downside of this growth has been the subsequent growth of a strong underworld and ethnic violence related to the oil fields. The government's human rights record also remains piss poor. Corruption is still a problem, and local traditions remain somewhat medieval. The problem of crime actually fueled the growth of Nollywood, because people preferred to stay in and watch movies, instead of taking their chances going to cinemas.

As the story goes, in 1992, Mr. Kenneth Nnebue had a number of blank VHS cassettes that he was trying to unload from his video store in Onitsha. Hitting on the idea that Nigerians might want to see stories about themselves, he shot the film Living in Bondage, about men who get rich by killing their wives and drinking their blood in black magic ceremonies. The wives' spirits haunt them and they beg Jesus for forgiveness. The film was a smash hit. Nollywood was born.

The production values of the average Nollywood movie are very low. Many are shot in less than a week on digital video for about $20,000. Edited and ready for the market in about a month, the movies can go on to sell about 200,000 units in a day. The prolific director Chico Ejiro has boasted that he can shoot an entire film in three days, a feat that would put the average exploitation movie lenser to shame.

The stories draw from traditional Nigerian storytelling and current events. Many of them are voodoo-horror stories, which I find interesting. Jason Lapeyre describes one: "Blood Money tells the story of a hard-working accountant duped out of millions of dollars of his employer's cash by a con man. Desperate to clear his name, he takes the advice of an old schoolmate and begins killing people to get their body parts and make a charm that will magically return the money. That doesn't work out so well, but fortunately he has Jesus to turn to and ask forgiveness. The movie was a smash and Blood Money 2 followed a few months later." Didactic Christianity or Islam play into a number of Nollywood movies as well.

Most of the films are now shot in English and can be found throughout the Nigerian diaspora. There's even a channel on the Dish Network that shows Nollywood films. Conversely, you can watch them for a few dollars a piece on sites such as Izogn Movies. The blog Nollywood Forever covers the gamut of Nigerian films and can tell you which ones are worth seeing.

Here's a Nollywood video from Pastor Helen Ukpabio, a controversial figure, to say the least. A program on the UK Channel 4 recently accused her leading a campaign that led Nigerian parents to abandon or kill their children, who were supposedly witches.


The Pagan Temple said...

I remember reading an article where the police were chasing some suspects in some crime. I forgot what it was but I remember the cops claimed-in the official police report, no less-that one of the suspects changed himself into a goat. I think they actually arrested the damn goat. I should have linked that. To say its a different world would be the understatement of the century.

rufus said...

Yeah, it's also had a very different history, for the most part anyway.

NollywoodForever said...

Interesting piece... Thanks for the shout out!