THE Nigerian movie industry is out-producing both Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of sheer numbers, with its films being shown not just throughout Africa, but also in European and American cities with African immigrant populations.“Our film sector is facing a great future,” says Emeka Mba, director-general of Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board. The Nigerian daily National Mirror even trumpets that Nollywood –– the term for Nigeria’s own dream factory –– is set “to conquer the world”.
Much of the low-cost production features melodrama, with love, power and treachery as the main themes. TV channels like Africa Magic broadcast Nigerian productions round the clock, like Brazil’s telenovelas.
However, to make the leap to international success, Nigeria’s films will need a large cash injection and improved production conditions. In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to provide government funding of US$200 million to promote the sector.
That could give Nollywood a much-needed boost, but filmmakers say the lofty promises have yet to be followed by deeds. Nigerians may compare their film industry with Hollywood and Bollywood, but in reality, they are in a different league.
Nollywood may churn out between 1 000 and 2 000 films a year. But the annual turnover of the industry is only about US$250 million, according to Mba.
Observers love to praise the “promising grassroots movement of African film,” as Italian filmmaker Franco Sacchi put it. Nigerian films regularly win prizes at African film festivals, with themes like the clash between tradition and modernity. But Nollywood has had little success at international events.
This is largely down to the quality of the movies that are often sold for viewing in homes or cafés. There are perhaps only two dozen proper cinemas in Nigeria.
The films are often shot with consumer-grade cameras in a few weeks, sometimes days. There are no studios. The budgets are tiny, between US$10 000 and US$30 000.
Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Western viewers find the films thin and even unintentionally funny.
Nigerian media expert Professor Emeka Okoli is critical of this amateurism: “We have bastardised the profession to the point that we just make sure the films come out. Once you do that, you compromise quality.”
Yet the themes appeal to many viewers. A brothel owner tries to lure a girl from the countryside into prostitution by offering her a job as a waitress.
A curse poisons relations between the families of a married couple. Witchcraft, conspiracy, corruption and scandal tend to dominate plots. Many films portray women as victims of violent lovers or cruel husbands.
“Unfortunately, that frequently reflects a sad reality,” Mba says. Nollywood also faces the massive problem of pre- and post-release piracy.