The cinema of Nigeria grew quickly in the 1990s and 2000s to become the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of theUnited States and behind the Indian film industry. According to Hala Gorani and Jeff Koinange formerly of CNN, Nigeria has a US$250 million movie industry, churning out some 200 videos for the home video market every month.
Nigerian cinema is Africa’s largest movie industry in terms of both value and the number of movies produced per year. Although Nigerian films have been produced since the 1960s, the rise of affordable digital filming and editing technologies has stimulated the country’s video film industry. The Nigerian video feature film industry is sometimes colloquially known asNollywood, having been derived as a play on Hollywood in the same manner as Bollywood.
However, television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid-1980s every state had its own broadcasting station. Law limited foreign television content so producers in Lagos began televising local popular theater productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small scale informal video movie trade developed.
The release of the box-office movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Kenneth Nnebue in the eastern city of Onitsha set the stage for Nollywood as it is known today. The story goes that Kenneth Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes which he then used to shoot the first film. The huge success of this film set the pace for others to produce other films or home videos. Through the business instincts and ethnic links of the Igbo and their dominance of distribution in major cities across Nigeria, home videos began to reach people across the country. Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that pushed foreign media off the shelves, an industry now marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world.
Since then, thousands of movies have been released. One of the first Nigerian movies to reach international renown was the 2003 release Osuofia in London, starring Nkem Owoh, the famous Nigerian comedic actor. Modern Nigerian cinema’s most prolific auteur is Chico Ejiro (“Mr. Prolific”), who directed over 80 films in an 8-year period and brags that he can complete production on a movie in as little as three days.
Ejiro’s brother Zeb is the best-known director of these videos outside of the country.
The first Nollywood films were produced with traditional analog video, such as Betacam SP, but today almost all Nollywood movies are produced using digital videotechnology. A March 2006 article in The Guardian cited Nigeria’s film industry as the third largest in the world in terms of earnings and estimated the industry to bring in US$200 million per year. In 2009, Unesco described Nollywood as being the second-biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in terms of output and called for greater support for the industry, which is the second-largest employer in Nigeria.
Most movies are not produced in studios. Video movies are shot on location all over Nigeria with hotels, homes, and offices often rented out by their owners and appearing in credits in the movies. The most popular locations are shot in the cities of Lagos, Enugu, and Abuja. However, distinct regional variations appear between the northern movies made primarily in theHausa language, the western Yoruba movies, the Edo language movies shot in Benin City, and the Igbo movies shot in the southeast. Many of the big producers have offices in Surulere,Lagos.
Nigerian directors adopt new technologies as soon as they become affordable. Editing, music, and other post-production work are done with common computer-based systems.
The primary distribution centers are Idumota Market on Lagos Island, and 51 Iweka Road in Onitsha in Anambra State. Currently, Nigerian films outsell Hollywood films in Nigeria and many other African countries. Some 300 producers turn out movies at an astonishing rate—somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 a year. The films go straight to DVD and VCD discs. Thirty new titles are delivered to Nigerian shops and market stalls every week, where an average film sells 50,000 copies. A hit may sell several hundred thousand. Discs sell for two dollars each, making them affordable for most Nigerians and providing astounding returns for the producers.
Most of the films are produced by independent companies and businessmen. However, the big money for films in Nigeria is made in the direct-to-video market. The average film costs between US$17,000 and US$23,000, is shot on video in just a week—selling up to 150,000–200,000 units nationwide in one day. With this type of return, more and more are getting into the film business there. By most reports, Nollywood is a $500-million industry. And it keeps growing. According to Frank Ikegwuonu, author of Who’s Who in Nollywood, about “1,200 films are produced in Nigeria annually.” And more and more filmmakers are heading to Nigeria because of “competitive distribution system and a cheap workforce.” Further, Nigerian films seem to be better received by the market when compared to foreign films because “those films are more family oriented than the American films.”
Nigerian movies are available in even the most remote areas of the continent. The last few years have seen the growing popularity Nigerian films among the people of African diaspora in both Europe, North America and the Caribbean. Nigerian films are currently receiving wider distribution as Nigerian producers and directors are attending more internationally acclaimed film festivals. In the USA, viewers can watch Nollywood and other West African movies on Afrotainment.
Many Nollywood movies have themes that deal with the moral dilemmas facing modern Africans. Some movies promote the Christian or Islamic faiths, and some movies are overtly evangelical. Others, however, address questions of religious diversity, such as the popular film One God One Nation, about a Muslim man and a Christian woman who want to marry but go through many obstacles.
Portrayal in the Western media
- The 2007 documentary Welcome to Nollywood by director Jamie Meltzer gives an overview of the industry. It pays particular attention to directors Izu Ojukwu and Chico Ejiro, and acknowledges the unusual, rapid, and enterprising way that most Nollywood films are created as well as their significance and contribution to the greater society and the production difficulties Ojukwu faced during production of his war epic Laviva.
- Franco Sacchi‘s 2007 documentary This Is Nollywood follows the production of Check Point, directed by Bond Emeruwa. It features interviews with Nigerian filmmakers and actors as they discuss their industry, defend the types of films they make and detail the kind of impact they can have. In 2007, Franco Sacchi presented the film on Nollywood at the TED conference.
- The 2007 Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy features a substantial section on Nigerian cinema. It focuses on the direct-to-DVD distribution of most Nigerian movies, as well as the industry’s reliance on off-the-shelf video editing equipment as opposed to the more costly traditional film process.
- A 2008 Canadian documentary Nollywood Babylon was co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, and produced by AM Pictures and the National Film Board of Canada in association with the Documentary Channel. It played in the Official Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009.
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