Article from ConnectNigeria, By: Ikenna Nwachukwu
On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, thousands of people descended upon
the Rock Cathedral in Lekki, Lagos, honoring an open invitation to
witness the premiere of a Nollywood movie. It was the first public
screening of 93 Days, a Steve Gukas film that tells the story
of Nigeria’s battle in 2014 to contain and stave off the national threat
that was Ebola. Movie celebrities posed for red carpet camera shots,
public officials strutted about the church complex, and the regular
people watched them all, thinking many different thoughts about what
they were seeing and anticipating. A distinctively secular festive mood
enveloped the house of worship, as the high and mighty came within
touching distance of the average-guy spectator. It was more than just a
movie premiere; it was the celebration of a film industry that was
finally finding its voice. Nollywood was coming alive, and Nigerians had
reverently come to pay homage to a representative of its finer
The premiere at House on the Rock would have been explained away as a one-off if 93 Days
had been just an unusually good product from an otherwise poor quality
industry. But in 2016, there were many others. Movies like ’76, The Wedding Party and A Trip To Jamaica fared rather well with the reviewers and were absolute hits at local cinemas. The Wedding Party
went on to smash the Nollywood movie earnings record, grossing over
₦450 million (in doing so, it left even big-budget Hollywood movies dead
in its wake, with Captain America and London Has Fallen
struggling far behind in the fight for Nigerian cinema-goers’
attention). Eight Nigerian films premiered at the Toronto International
Film Festival in Canada; many of them got sold out.
Nollywood isn’t stopping at being the world’s third-largest film
industry; it’s defining entertainment on the African continent and
making a claim for greater significance on a global front. Many culture
pundits- including some in the traditional bastions of filmmaking in the
United States -are beginning to take notice.
To think that this multi-billion dollar industry was once spiraling
down the abyss of chaos, assailed as it was by multiple foes.
Nothing paints the picture of Nollywood’s unseverable links to the
general Nigerian economy than the industry’s thriving during the oil
boom of the mid-1970s and its nosediving fortunes following the economic
collapse of the 1980s. At the height of the petrodollar-driven
prosperity forty years ago, cinemas were packed with financially
comfortable Nigerians seeking the pleasure and thrill that movies local
and foreign could give. The Government’s indigenization policy opened up
a new world of opportunities for directors, screenwriters and actors to
explore and profit from. Things were looking up. But the oil glut came,
the flow of cash dried up, and people stopped going to the movies. By
1999, the cinemas were all dead.
Although Nollywood has emerged from its darkest days, it’s still
being haunted by many of the demons that strangled it in the past.
Piracy, an unfortunate byproduct of the home video “salvation” that
helped the industry stay afloat while the cinemas were shut, remains a
big stifler of growth in the sector. Pirated DVDs are sold in stores
across the country at a fraction of the original product’s price, making
it almost impossible for movie producers to profit from their work. Not
everyone has the resources or connections needed to create or feature
in bigger movies like ’76 or The Wedding Party; the
vast majority of filmmakers and actors (actresses) have to struggle in
the lower, much wider, and far more perilous end of the market, where
funding is thin and pirates reign supreme. For many in this uncelebrated
backwater of the Nigerian film industry, making ends meet is a real
battle. This is the reality you’ll find lurking in the shadows of the
proclaimed renaissance of Nollywood, beyond all the hype about
expressive Nigerian art going global.
One problem that hasn’t gone away with the passing of time is the
absence of a proper movie distribution channel. It’s extremely difficult
to track movie sales because the film vendors aren’t captured in any
official system. This makes it hard to speak meaningfully of a movie
“industry” beyond the confines of stakeholder guilds and cinemas.
Outside this safe zone, the pirates roam freely, undeterred by the
efforts of law enforcement agencies to cull their nefarious activities.
The internet has added a new, threatening dimension to things: you no
longer need to take a trip to the cinema to see that new movie; it’ll
pop up online somewhere, and you’ll watch it- for free.
In spite of its faults, Nollywood continues to defy the odds. As of
2014, it was worth $5.1 billion- an indication of increased patronage
resulting from a general improvement in the quality of films being
produced. The industry also employs a large number of people (the exact
number is uncertain, although claims of over a million direct and
indirect players in the film business have been made). A revival in the
cinema culture was sparked in the 2000s; the Silverbird Group, seizing
an opportunity brought about by a growing middle class and a population
increasingly adopting western lifestyles, opened several modern cinemas
in major cities, and soon began showing Nigerian movies. They were
followed by others. Higher quality requirements from these cinema houses
meant that local producers had to make better films to stand a chance
of having their movies screened in them. Because the market created by
the cinemas was obviously lucrative, filmmakers complied by churning out
better movies. The benefits have shown in the capture of market
segments which previously snubbed local films in favor of Hollywood
blockbusters. Consumers have spent to get tickets, and revenue
thresholds have been exceeded.
Nollywood’s leading voices incessantly call upon the Government to
“come to their aid” by “creating an enabling environment” for the
industry to thrive. Their calls haven’t gone unheeded. In 2010, the
Goodluck Jonathan administration launched a ₦30 billion intervention
fund for the creative and entertainment industry, aimed at helping
Nigerian filmmakers with training, funding, and infrastructure. Another
program- “NollyFund” -was launched by the Bank of Industry in 2015 to
make loans available to film producers. More recently, a ₦100 billion
free TV distribution network for Nollywood (courtesy the Federal
Government) is said to be in the works. But the chorus from the industry
seems to be that these moves, though laudable, are not enough.
Perhaps Nollywood need not depend on taxpayers money for a break.
Collaborations with private sector businesses (as seen in movies such as
93 Days) could help solve the funding problem. Afterall, as Reno Omokri points out in an article for The Vanguard,
Nigeria’s films are its major cultural export, loved and appreciated
across the African continent. Surely, businesses can do with leveraging
the potential selling power of a resurgent Nollywood!