Q&A: Phoenix Fry on Nollywood

Phoenix Fry is the creative director of the Nollywood Now film festival, the first Nigerian film festival in the UK.

How did you become involved with this project? I run Deptford Film Club, a fortnightly mini-cinema in the Birds Nest pub, and I wanted to do something that would raise the profile of Nigerian cinema.

What was the first Nigerian film you saw? The first film I saw was called Older Than The Earth, a supernatural thriller in which a river demon changes into human form and then sets out to destroy the life of the hero. I was astonished.
Why has there never been a Nollywood festival before? I know! It’s a real surprise that there has not been a wholly Nollywood film festival before. Nigerian film has been part of larger festivals in London, though, so this festival is very much part of a larger movement to make Nigerian film more visible.
In what way does Nigerian cinema differ from the mainstream? This is a tricky question to answer. Because there are so many films produced, it’s difficult to make generalisations about Nollywood. Like the films shown at mainstream UK cinemas, Nollywood films want to entertain the masses. They are as dramatic or as funny as any Hollywood thriller or comedy. Hollywood films have much higher budgets, of course, but the real difference is that they are Nigerian. Mainstream UK culture isn’t very good at representing the lives of its African-born citizens. For this reason, the Nigerian film industry – which entertains millions of Africans every day – is a global phenomenon that deserves to be celebrated here in London.
If the main difference about the films is that they are Nigerian, then will I be able to understand them?¬†Heavens yes! The films have universal themes such as love, relationships, war and human struggle – just like the films you grew up with. British and American films are very action-focussed, with very quick, punchy scenes, whereas Nigerian films tend to have a more leisurely pace. You might find this frustrating at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.
I know nothing about Nigerian cinema, what do you recommend as a starter film?
We’re starting our festival with the documentary Nollywood Babylon, which is a great way for Nollywood-newbies to get a feel for the Nigerian film industry. White Waters, which we are screening on Saturday 9 October, is the closest to a Hollywood-style teen romance.Osuofia in London (screening on Thursday 7) is a classic comedy, and it’s great fun spotting the filming locations. But I would also recommend that you go to your nearest Nigerian DVD shop in Dalston, Deptford, Woolwich or Peckham and dive in!

Nollywood Now runs from 6-12 October at Deptford Town Hall in New Cross

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