History has it, that the first set of Nigerian feature films were made by great men such as Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, Francis Oladele, John Ifoghale Amata, Eddie Ugbomah, Jab Adu, and Ola Balogun, to name a few. For these early pioneers, theater and films provided an avenue to empower people to reflect on the Nigerian society as well as serve as a tool for education.
But in 1992 Nigeria’s home video industry, popularly known as Nollywood, took a dynamic turn with the release of the movie “Living in Bondage“. The movie tells the story of a man who in his pursuit for wealth and power, kills his wife in ritual sacrifice. Produced by Chris Obi-Rapu and screen written by Kenneth Nnebue and Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, Living in Bondage set the pace that would forever change the face of the home video industry within Nigeria and across the African continent.
For the first time, Nigerians began to appreciate the fact that they could provide low-cost entertainment by expanding the themes of existing local television soap operas and turning them into home videos.
Much More Than Home Videos: Cinema Screening
One of the biggest criticism from early practitioners in the film industry is the fact that Nollywood is not a film industry but a home video industry. Critics assert that Living in Bondage merely sparked the revival of the home video industry, which had slowed down in its production from the time when home videos were made by the likes of the late Muyideen Alade Aromire. In fact, many detest the name “Nollywood” for its lack of originality.
Interestingly today, movies from Nollywood are quickly evolving from merely being home videos available via VCDs and DVDs and it appears that more effort is being made towards production values. An emerging trend is for these movies to be screened in cinemas across Nigeria. Take for example, A Mile from Home (2013), Last Flight to Abuja (2012), MAAMI (2012), Tango with Me (2010), and Arugba (2008), which are all Nollywood movies that premiered in the cinemas in Nigeria.
From Books to Movies — Adaptations!
Over the years, some of Nigeria’s best literature have been adapted into films. These include: The Concubine (1966) written by Elechi Amadi and adapted into a movie by Andy Amenechi, Things Fall Apart (1958) written by Chinua Achebe, MAAMI (1987) written by Femi Osofisan and adapted into a movie directed by Tunde Kelani in 2012, Kongi’s Harvest (1965) written by Wole Soyinka and adapted into a movie directed by Ossie Davis, and most recently, Half of A Yellow Sun (2007), written by Chimamanda Adichie and adapted into a movie directed by Biyi Bandele in 2013.
International Markets and Film Festivals
Love for Nollywood movies cuts across many countries especially on the African continent and amongst Africans in the diaspora. It is also not unusual for Nollywood filmmakers and actors to collaborate with other movie industries or for Nollywood movies to be produced outside Nigeria. For example, the 2003 comedy Osuofia in London, which told the story of a man from a rural part of Nigeria who is struck by culture shock when he travels to London was partly filmed in London. Again, Ijé (2010), which told the story of two sisters with unbreakable bonds of loyalty was filmed both in Los Angeles and in Jos, Nigeria. A couple of other movies including Mirror Boy (2010) and Anchor Baby (2010) were filmed outside Nigeria while movies like Amazing Grace (2008) and Black Gold (2011), involved collaboration between Nollywood and Hollywood actors.
A good number of Nollywood movies have also been screened and celebrated at International film festivals with the goal of exposing global audiences to Nigerian films. For example, Nollywood movies have been screened at Seattle International Film Festival in 2013, New York African Film Festival in 2010, Nollywood Week in Paris (2013), Subversive Film Festival in Croatia (2011), Nollywood Now! in London (2010), Swansea Bay International Film Festival, International Youth Film Festival, Boston International Film Festival and most recently Film Africa in London (2013).
Financing, Distribution Networks and Piracy
Despite the huge consumer base, financing, unauthorized distribution and piracy are three of the biggest challenges to Nollywood. On the average, Nollywood movies are self-financed by filmmakers in the industry, an act that often prevents filmmakers from working to advance the quality of these movies. But this is not to say that Nollywood films or Nigerian TV dramas do not receive financing from external sources. For example, in 2004, the African Group of BBC World Service Trust co-funded a HIV/AIDS drama series in Nigeria titled “Wetin Dey”, with the aim of weaving HIV story lines into indigenous film projects.
Again, many companies within and outside the African continent acknowledge the potential in the industry and have taken steps toward investing in films through product placements and other forms of sponsorships. For example, in 2009, the movie “The Figurine” secured product placement from many companies including Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Motorola and Omatek Computers. Also, the movie Phone Swap received co-sponsorship from companies like glo mobile (a major telecommunication network in Africa) and Research in Motion, who are the makers of Blackberry phones.
In terms of distribution, the unauthorized distribution of Nollywood movies has on the one hand facilitated the viral spread of these movies but at the same time it has consistently led to reduction in profits for producers, directors and distributors. Filmmakers are often left to rely on a network of marketers for distribution of their films. While institutions like the Nigerian Copyright Commission continue to fight against piracy and authorized distribution of films, enforcement of copyright in Nigeria still faces major challenges. Again, the rise of online digital media distributors such as Afrinolly, iROKOtv, Pana TV, dobox, while diversifying the industry’s distribution network, raise similar concerns experienced by other film industries that deal with digital content distribution.
While the exact age of the industry and even the nickname “Nollywood” remain subjects of controversy amongst practitioners in the film industry in Nigeria and the industry continues to be criticized for producing home videos or films that do not accurately reflect the current Nigerian culture or address the more sophisticated audience of today, one thing is clear, Nollywood is on the rise and is an industry to keep an eye on.