Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation might not be represented at this year’s Cannes film festival competition but the power of the Nigerian movie industry alone brings them here to show case Nollywood.
At the Nigerian stand on pavilion 114 in Cannes I met Mr. Afolabi Adesanya, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Film Corporation,an international agency for Nigerian film promotion and development. Although film making in Nigeria is mostly private, there has been some great strides in government support for the industry that boasts of producing more than 2000 films a year- way more than Hollywood. Hence Adesanya is here to “give Nigerian producers the platform to network and spread the message about the strengths of the film industry.”
The Nigerian motion picture industry is one the fastest growing sectors of the country’s economy, largest market in Africa and the 3rd largest provider of motion picture content worldwide. The industry is estimated to be worth $450 million.
It is difficult to find many corners of the continent where a Nigerian movie has not been watched. The Naija movies, as many call them, well resonate to the wider African audiences for their storylines, ambiences, portrayals, messages, characterization and easy plots and always seeming to offer a resolution to a problem.
If it not a traditional healer, it’s the police, corruption, the get-rich quick schemes in urban places and the use of comic. Many are low budget productions and with its over 150 million people, Nigeria is awash of talent and it has a rich pool of star actors.
Adesanya tells me the investment environment and tax regimes have made the sector soar above any other on the continent. He narrates that cinema first came to Nigeria in 1903 and since the industry has grown to adapt to changes.
“In terms of content for instance in the 70s and 80s we had producers adapt popular Nigeria literature into cinema like Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart.”
Adesanya says the Nigerian film industry also quickly embraced the shift from cinema to home video productions. He also attributes the rise of Nollywood to an already existing market of Africans in diaspora who desperately wanted content they could easily relate to.
“Nigerians in diaspora as well as other Africans in diaspora to as far West Indies were ready to view the Nollywood productions so it was not difficult to market,” he says.
But also at the stand there’s a booklet, a compilation of essays from the Nigerian Film Corporation Annual Film Essay competition 2007-2011. In there you find critiques of the Nigerian cinema scene by Nigerians.
I found an essay by Mike Ekunno titled “Nigerian Movie: Global social-cultural impact” interesting because it raises a question of what really is definition of a Nigerian movie?
“…we cannot say the Nigerian Movie has emerged. This is because what presently obtains are movies with provincial appeals along regional lines with a few having cross over rating among young, urban, cosmopolitan viewers,” Ekunno argues.
In the end Ekunno says the emergence of the Nigerian movie must come on the heel of telling the aunthentic Nigerian story. “And he says that story is not all about witchcraft and magic, it’s not all about emigrating to the West to defeat poverty. Neither is it all about callous step-mother or the billionaire cultist or wicked in-laws.”
Adesanya accepts that this criticism is credible and adds that the government is already working with film producers to bring productions that tell other realities – especially the positives in the Nigerian society. The Nigeria government is one of the very few of the continent that has tapped into this industry and supported it.
Awani Mohammed Zanna is at the stand representing the Nigerian Export-Import Bank, the bank the manages a $200 million revolving fund established two years ago to support Nigeria’s film industry.
“Film financing is quite different and also difficult. We are sometimes torn in between supporting start-ups vis-à-vis established producers,” Zanna explains, “but in two years we have supported production of 4 movies, 2 cinema productions and an internet forum where you can stream Nigerian movies (Lumoe.com – http://movies.lumoe.com/).”
At Cannes, the Nigerian Film Corporation is here to build on such talent to tell the world that Nollywood is the right place to invest.