2016 was an interesting year in Nollywood. It was a bit like dancing the cha cha, a few steps forward and a few steps back, from premiers at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and major collaborations, to the deep seated issues and contempt revealed by MOPICON, it’s been an interesting dance.
-- 8 Nollywood films screened at TIFF as part of the City to City programme, where the filmmakers got an opportunity to talk about their films on that grand platform and meet with other global filmmakers. As TIFF is amongst the top 5 film festivals in the world, this was a privilege many filmmakers strive to attain.
-- The long-in-gestation feature "76" whose teaser was initially released in 2011, had its North American premiere at TIFF and dropped in Nigerian Cinemas in November. The story, with the assassination of a Head of State as its backdrop, is the first Nollywood film to receive the full collaboration of the Nigerian Military who hosted and trained the cast. As Nigeria has a long history of the military playing a role in the path the nation has taken, this is a significant step.
-- The drama-thriller feature "93 days" portrayed the heroic efforts of the Doctors and the Lagos State Government during the Ebola crisis, and is effectively one of the first biopics in modern Nollywood.
-- "The CEO" is one of the first Nollywood films with a Pan African cast, locations across continents with a transatlantic premiere.
-- "The Wedding Party" is the 1st large scale collaboration of studios in Nollywood; EbonyLife, Film One Inkblot and Koga studios all collaborated on the film under the company name ELFIKE. These are the mini majors of Nollywood. For Americans, think of it like having Lions Gate, Open Road Films, The Weinstein Company and Harpo coming together for one project.
-- Netflix made its official entry into Nigeria, and now producers have another platform where they can release their films and find audiences locally and internationally; this is particularly good for films that can't distribution due to a lack of star power, or popularity. It's also an opportunity to tap into a global audience who may have had difficulty accessing Nigerian films they hear about and want to see.
-- It was a year of many "firsts" and setting of precedents in Nollywood, which are all a good thing for the evolution of the industry; specifically production value and budgets have shown some remarkable growth.
In summary, advancements in scale, collaboration and global positioning combine to suggest 2016 was a relatively good year for Nollywood.
So, what would I like to see in 2017 and beyond for the Nigerian film industry?
COLLABORATION: Collaboration has been a huge problem over the years, and it’s because of competition as those in the business have just wanted to keep their heads above water and survive. But I hope with ELFIKE setting a precedent with "The Wedding Party" in 2016, it will inspire more collaboration, and not necessarily by the big players only, but also the “little” guys. I’d like to see more filmmakers pool resources to make a singular piece of work, which may do far better than if they continue to insist on flying solo, due to their combined strength and experience.
SCALE: Nollywood films, like the early indie films in the US, are known for their low budgets and very fast productions. While films like the aforementioned "76," "93 days," and "The CEO" would continue to be the exception for a while, it would be great if there are a few more higher budget, more professional productions released every year that could inspire upcoming filmmakers , convert skeptics of Nollywood cinema into fans, and show investors - locally and internationally - just what is possible when the right financing is available to talented Nigerian filmmakers.
GLOBAL POSITIONING: All filmmakers want is a paying audience who enjoy their product, and want to see them grow as artists; 8 Nigerian filmmakers screened their films on a global platform at TIFF in 2016, and had the opportunity to see how non-native audiences respond to stories from Nigeria. The reviews varied; some films thrived and others didn’t; but it was an immeasurable experience. The more Nollywood films are able to travel and gain traction, the better for the industry. It could lead to distributors acquiring territory rights, investors looking to finance films, co-production deals between Nigeria and other countries, foreign studios and content commissioners looking to partner with or have local offices in Nigeria, crossovers opportunities for directors and actors which expand their options and visibility, and much more. This kind of advancement would mean more income to content producers, interest in local productions and more opportunities for the players.
While it wasn’t a perfect year - with its share of disappointment, controversy, losses, tragedy and turkeys - it was a year of significant strides for Nollywood, which hopefully are stepping stones to bigger and better things for the industry as a whole. We still have a very long way to go, but if we continue to build and expand every year, there are great things in store for the future.