|Nollywood the second most prolific film industry in the world after India’s Bollywood.|
In Lagos, Nigeria's financial capital, and other cities in the South, it's possible to imagine that Nigeria is going to be the next Brazil, an emerging giant. In the North, blighted by environmental degradation, struggling agriculture and collapsed industry, life is no better than in neighbouring Chad, Niger or Mali.
Lagos, the Nigerian business capital, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood, produces about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood.
Nigerian films are as popular through out Africa as they are at home. It is said that Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian films.Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day.
How did Nollywood come about?
How did Nollywood come about?
The first true Nollywood film resulted from a failed business venture. In 1992 Kenneth Nnebue, a market trader, ordered a large consignment of blank videotapes from Taiwan. Finding them hard to sell, he hired a theatre director to make a cheap film and copied it onto the tapes to boost their appeal. “Living in Bondage”, the story of a farmer in a big city who loses his wife and is haunted by her ghost, sold more than half a million copies.
Interestingly the market traders still control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. Market traders double as financiers. All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in the massive, chaotic market of Idumota in Lagos.
As soon as a film is released, pirates rip it off. It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the “mating season”, before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.
The merchants curse the pirates, but in a way they are a blessing. Pirate gangs were probably Nollywood’s first exporters. They knew how to cross tricky borders and distribute goods across a disparate continent where vast tracts of land are inaccessible. Sometimes they filled empty bags with films when returning from an arms delivery. Often they used films to bribe bored guards at remote borders. The pirates created the pan-African market for Nollywood films.
The Secret of Nollywood's success
One of the key ingredients of success is that the actors in Nollywood films speak English, rather than one of Nigeria’s 514 native languages. Large parts of the continent are familiar with English due to colonialism, and Nollywood’s influence is continuing to spread the language more widely. A further ingredient that adds to their success is that the films’ plots have strong pan-African appeal. They often revolve around the difficulties of new arrivals in big cities, an experience familiar across the continent. The epic film “One God One Nation” portrays a Muslim man and a Christian woman who struggle to marry. “Caught in the Act” (see poster below) shows a wife who is wrongly accused by her own mother-in-law of abducting a child. The overarching theme of Nollywood films is Africa’s trials and tribulations of living in the 21st Century in an increasingly globalised world.