Watch out Hollywood, Nollywood is coming to town for a festival of African film

By Jeffery Fleishman

In the early days of Nigerian cinema, directors and actors wandered cities and tribal lands shooting movies straight to VHS tapes that were sold in kiosks and bartered in villages.

Those times of on-the-fly editing and pocket-change financing have since grown into one of the largest film industries in the world, a quicksilver business that is as attuned to juju priests as it is to the love affairs and nightclubs of the new rich.

The reach of what is known as Nollywood often strikes Kemi Adetiba, one of its most acclaimed directors, when she’s in Jamaica or New York. A taxi driver will invariably say, “Oh, God, I love Nigerian films” while waxing on about how those stories connect him to ancestors who centuries before had been uprooted from Africa by slavery and colonialism.

“Nollywood is the way a lot of the black diaspora understand their history,” said Ose Oyamendan, a filmmaker and founder of the Nollywood in Hollywood film festival, which opens Friday at the Egyptian Theatre.Even in Brazil, they are so into Nollywood films because that’s how they know where their families came from. I’ve been to places in the Caribbean where you walk past houses and people are watching Nollywood films.”

“Nollywood is the way a lot of the black diaspora understand their history,” said Ose Oyamendan, a filmmaker and founder of the Nollywood in Hollywood film festival, which opens Friday at the Egyptian Theatre.Even in Brazil, they are so into Nollywood films because that’s how they know where their families came from. I’ve been to places in the Caribbean where you walk past houses and people are watching Nollywood films.”

Nollywood symbolizes a nation discovering and deciphering itself through film. It produces about 1,600 movies a year, trailing India’s Bollywood but more than double what Hollywood releases. There are few precise statistics, but a 2014 U.S government report estimated that the Nigerian film industry, which has since grown significantly, employed about 1 million people and generated more than $600 million for the economy. The quality of films has improved since the VHS era of the 1980s; Netflix this year began streaming “Lionheart,” the first original Nollywood movie acquired by the company.

“Filmmaking in Africa is exploding,” said Banky W., a Nigerian rapper, singer and actor. “Nollywood, in terms of popularity, is leading the charge, but we’re seeing amazing films coming out of east Africa, South Africa, and even Ghana has its own impressive business. I hope this generation of Nigerians and Africans and filmmakers, artists and creators is the one that finally turns the fortunes of the continent around.”
Roughly twice the size of California, Nigeria — where 44% of the population of 190 million lives on less than $2 a day— has only about 200 movie screens. The film industry is a vast landscape of opportunists, auteurs and video pirates. Most Nollywood movies are shot in fewer than three weeks, and budgets range from $20,000 to $130,000. Many are made for less. The country’s highest-grossing movie, “The Wedding Party,” directed by Adetiba, brought in $1.3 million.

Nigeria’s oil wealth and its film industry are indications that the vestiges of colonialism — the country was ruled by the British until 1960 — are giving way to new realities. This is the story of much of Africa, as countries from South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo navigate corruption and strife against the backdrops of globalization and unsteady politics.

“Nollywood is Nigerians telling Nigerian stories,” said Banky W., who stars in “Up North” and will be attending the festival with Adetiba. “Nigerians in the south don’t know much about life in the north. All we hear are the bad things: terrorism, Boko Haram. The 200 girls kidnapped by terrorists. These horror stories happened in the north, but there’s also beauty there. There’s culture, peace, tradition. We need more films like this [‘Up North’] talking about the things that matter in Africa.”

Speaking by phone from Nigeria on the day the military turned out in force to prevent violence during state elections, Banky W. added: “Africans themselves will be what rescues Africa. We’ve had bad leadership and all of that, but it is a continent with so much promise.”

It is also one with sly humor and unabashed marketing. Shortly after “Black Panther” opened around the world and celebrated the fictional land of Wakanda, Nollywood’s “Wakanda Forever” — Seasons 1 and 2 — appeared on YouTube in all their campy glory.

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“Nollywood is Nigerians telling Nigerian stories,” said Banky W., who stars in “Up North” and will be attending the festival with Adetiba. “Nigerians in the south don’t know much about life in the north. All we hear are the bad things: terrorism, Boko Haram. The 200 girls kidnapped by terrorists. These horror stories happened in the north, but there’s also beauty there. There’s culture, peace, tradition. We need more films like this [‘Up North’] talking about the things that matter in Africa.”

Speaking by phone from Nigeria on the day the military turned out in force to prevent violence during state elections, Banky W. added: “Africans themselves will be what rescues Africa. We’ve had bad leadership and all of that, but it is a continent with so much promise.”

It is also one with sly humor and unabashed marketing. Shortly after “Black Panther” opened around the world and celebrated the fictional land of Wakanda, Nollywood’s “Wakanda Forever” — Seasons 1 and 2 — appeared on YouTube in all their campy glory.

It is also one with sly humor and unabashed marketing. Shortly after “Black Panther” opened around the world and celebrated the fictional land of Wakanda, Nollywood’s “Wakanda Forever” — Seasons 1 and 2 — appeared on YouTube in all their campy glory.

It is also one with sly humor and unabashed marketing. Shortly after “Black Panther” opened around the world and celebrated the fictional land of Wakanda, Nollywood’s “Wakanda Forever” — Seasons 1 and 2 — appeared on YouTube in all their campy glory.

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