Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence is on 1st October this year, and as part of the celebrations, the UK’s first ever Nollywood (Nigerian) film festival comes to London. And where is the hub of this ground breaking event? New Cross of course.
From 6th to 12th October 2010, a different film will be shown every night at Deptford Town Hall as part of Nollywood Now, a showcase of some of the best Nigerian films.
If you don’t know about Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, now is your chance to brush up. It has recently become the second largest producer of films in the world. The industry has an estimated turnover of £158 million, and produces around 2400 films a year, putting it in front of the USA, but behind India, for the number of films it produces.
The industry has sprung up from nothing over the last ten years and its low-budget, rough production style, makes for a gritty, but uplifting antidote to the groomed glamour of Hollywood. The average film takes around a week to make and costs are low – around £10,000 per film.
Phoenix Fry, the creative director of Nollywood Now says: ‘‘It is an industry known for low budget films and a completely different model of film making from what we are used to in Europe and America. Nigerian films are often dramatic but because pretty much anyone can get access to making films, they end up a lot closer to real life.’’
The festival starts with a screening of Nollywood Babylon, which airs on Wednesday night. It is a documentary about the social and cultural background to the industry and is known for its portrayal of the real lives of Nigerian people.
Gareth Stanton, senior lecturer in communications at Goldsmiths University, is a member of the after show discussion panel for Nollywood Babylon: “I’m interested in media production outside of media imperialism, and when I was teaching I would look at Bollywood and telenovelas (Latin American romantic TV series), but in the last 10 years Nollywood has become this new, extraordinary thing.”
Actors wear little or no make-up, they don’t have a costume budget and scenes are shot almost off the cuff, as soon as permission is granted to use a space. “It reminds me of late 60’s Hong Kong films,” says Stanton,”where they would film a fight scene in the street before the police came and told them to move on.”
As with all low-budget films, there are positives and negatives to the products of Nollywood, Stanton notes, “Its sheer energy and lack of rules makes it interesting, films can be made in a matter of days – from getting permission to production, which is amazing really.”
The downside is that sometimes production values can be very poor, the flip side of low budgets is that there are a lot of independent producers. “What is vital is that it is almost all individuals who produce them, not big studios.”
The films are aimed at the 260 million Nigerians who live in poverty, so universal themes of finding a fortune, triumph over tragedy and boy-meets-girl are common. Some of the films tap into Nigerian traditions of mystical spirits, others are funded by Christian organisations and have a more Christian message.
“Its a poor audience that should be very rich,” says Stanton, “but the oil money is held by very few; the rest live in abject poverty. Theirs are simple tastes… and Nollywood reflects that — like early American cinema — it caters to poor people with big dreams.”
Most of the films aren’t produced for the cinema, they go straight to DVD and pirating is quite a big problem. According to the Nollywood Now website, Nollywood fans in London can rent or buy their films from shops in Deptford, Peckham and Dalston.
Moses Babatope, Odeon Cinema’s special projects manager for Nollywood, says that soon this could change, “Audiences in Britain – who have traditionally watched Nollywood films at home on TV – are now demanding cinematic screenings of new films.”
And there are other signs that the industry is getting increased recognition. Goldsmiths is linking up with the Pan-African University in Lagos to run script writing courses, and, reflecting the industry’s international following, films are increasingly being made in English (around half are now in English, the rest are in Yoruba or Hausa).
The films seem to be a suck-it-and-see experience. Fry says, “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.”
“It’s hard to describe” says Stanton: “They are a specific genre of their own. Your eye has to bear with it for a while, like Bollywood; if you aren’t expecting eight songs in your feature film then it takes a while to adjust. It doesn’t tick the usual boxes and its often hammy, and some films are just really bad, but the ones on show next week will provide a good introduction to the genre.”
Nollywood Now runs from 6-12th October at Deptford town Hall, tickets cost £3 per film or £12 for a festival ticket.
Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF
7.30pm, Wednesday 6 October
Nollywood Babylon (Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, 2008), a Canadian documentary which goes behind the scenes and puts the industry into cultural and political perspective. Launch night panel discussion will include:
- Alfred Soroh, Managing Director of Nollywood Channel (Sky 329)
- Dr. Gareth Stanton, Head of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London
- Moses Babatope, the Odeon Cinema’s special projects manager for Nollywood
- Adekunle Detokunbo-Bello, Nigerian film-maker and academic
7.30pm, Thursday 7 October
Osuofia in London (Kingsley Ogoro, 2003), one of the most popular Nigerian films of all time. Introduced by the film’s co-producer, Dr. Kola Munis.
7.30pm, Friday 8 October
Dangerous Twins (Tade Ogidan, 2004), a thriller set in London and Lagos starring Ramsey Nouah in the double title role. Introduced by the actor and producer Sola Sobawale, who also starred in the film.
7.30pm, Saturday 9 October
White Waters (Izu Ojukwu, 2008) a popular teen sports romance starring Rita Dominic. Introduced by Dr. Gareth Stanton, Head of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London (TBC).
7.30pm, Monday 11 October
Arugba (Tunde Kelani, 2009), a Yoruba language movie which had its UK premiere at the Odeon in Greenwich. Introduced by Moses Babatope, the Odeon Cinema’s special projects manager for Nollywood.
7.30pm, Tuesday 12 October
Film to be confirmed. Introduced by Adekunle Detokunbo-Bello, Nigerian film-maker and academic.
Deptford Town Hall
New Cross Road
London SE14 6AF