Reflecting on Nollywood's Lack of International Critical Recognition

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April 20th 2017

nollywood

In the last few years a few Directors of Nigerian heritage have made waves internationally.

Thomas Ikimi with his debut "Limbo" and its follow up "Legacy: Black Ops" (2010) , which scored a hot-off-"The Wire" Idris Elba as his lead and co-producer. It was nominated for a British Independent Film Award, and won Best Director at the London Screen Nation Awards 2011, and was picked up for distribution in both the US and UK with limited theatrical releases in each country.

Fun Fact: Ikimi had been unable to raise funds in the UK or US so he came back to Nigeria and raised the entire production and post-production budget of $500,000.

There's also Andrew Dosunmu with "Restless City" and follow up "Mother of George," both films wining Cinematography awards at Sundance.

Akin Omotoso directed the crime drama, "Man on Ground" (2011) premiering at TIFF (he also directed last year's South African romantic comedy "Tell Me Sweet Something").

Newton Aduaka directed child soldier tale "Ezra," was at Sundance.

Destiny Ekaragha’s "Gone Too Far" won Best Newcomer at the London Film Festival. She's only the third British black woman, following Ngozi Onwurah and Amma Asante, to have directed a feature-length film that was given theatrical distribution in the UK.

Richard Ayoade directed "Submarine" and "The Double," both films received international critical acclaim and releases.

Rick Famuyiwa ("Brown Sugar," "The Wood") made a splash at Sundance with the coming-of-age movie "Dope" last year, and is now attached to direct the feature film for DC’s speedster "The Flash."

And there are others...

While we celebrate these Nigerian kin, the thing is, all these filmmakers were either born or raised or have spent most of their adult lives and careers outside Nigeria. The question then is, despite the position of Nigeria as the second largest producer of films in the world, why aren’t filmmakers living, educated and working in Nigeria frequently making films that take the world by storm?

If "City of God" from Brazil - a country with no discernible film industry - could get the global film industry and audiences talking, and inspire many of today’s Nigerian directors that such a level of filmmaking was possible from the so-called “third world”, why hasn’t any Nigerian film (as in 100% Nigerian cast, crew & financing) been able to have a similar kind of impact?

If "Timbuktu," from Mauritania, could be selected in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the most prestigious film festival in the world (the Cannes Film Festival), and win the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, as well as the François Chalais Prize, get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language, why not films from the film industry that reminds everyone that it’s the 2nd largest in the world?

Why aren’t we (Nollywood cinema) regularly in competition at the top film festivals; Cannes, Sundance, Toronto (TIFF), Berlinale, Venice, etc?

Considering the output of Nollywood, the odds should be astronomically higher than most other similar countries, right?

At the Nigeria Entertainment Conference (NEC) a few years back, a prominent industry figure on a panel was asked about our lack of presence at international film festivals (whether major or not). With condescending irritation, he dismissed the question, stating that we didn’t need the recognition from those festivals, and that the films were made for local audiences who loved what they were getting.

Was it a sincere argument, or simply a cop-out, instead of addressing the fact that Nigeria's prolific film industry has, so far, proven incapable of making globally accessible films that can cut through the noise and stand out? After all, cinema is a visual language that transcends culture, language and creed, opening the filmmaker to a wider demographic and more opportunities.

Film Festivals are to the filmmaker, what the Olympics, IAAF, Common Wealth Games etc, are to athletes. While you may be a champion sprinter in your community (what we call, a local champion), if you really want to prove that you are as good as, or better than everyone else in the world, you have to compete at the highest levels; you have to go to the Olympics.

So, shouldn’t Nollywood films be regular features, in competition, in film festivals around the world? Shouldn’t Nigerian-born and bred directors have films that have the entire global industry talking? It only leads to wider distribution, which means even more income for the local filmmakers, producers and film companies, so why wouldn’t anyone want that? Also with Hollywood’s love for “discovering” foreign talent, it creates a larger platform for the filmmaker.

There are many filmmakers who truly have no interest in any market beyond the one they are currently serving, and that's fine, but that certainly can’t be the perspective of the majority, can it? Foreign Directors (non U.S) have caught the eyes of studios when their “low budget” films, made in their home countries, make waves and are transcendent of language and culture. Gavin Hood (South Africa) won the Oscar for "Tsotsi" and was hired to direct "Wolverine: X Men origins"; Fernando Meirielles (Brazil) went on to make "The Constant Gardner"; Florian Henckel Von Donnersmack (Germany) directed "The Tourist" based on the impression he made with "The Lives of Others"; Tomas Alfredson (Sweden) made the cult hit "Let the Right One In" and was given "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"; Jose Padhila (Brazil) directed "Elite Squad" and was hired for the "Robocop" reboot, and now is producing and directing "Narcos" for Netflix; and there are others.

It can be argued that their Hollywood outings weren’t great (studio interference et al), but their work got them to the place where Studios felt confident enough to call on them, skipping over filmmakers right in their backyard - available U.S born and bred filmmakers - to direct these Studio films.

Unlike the home video era, Nollywood films in the new era have considerably bigger budgets averaging between ₦40 million (US$250,000) and ₦120 million ($750,000). Why can’t this also be the story of a Nigerian director who made a tour de force first film with a budget in that range, that travels internationally, makes a splash, leading to Hollywood studios fighting to hire him/her and give him/her $50m to make a film?

It would be wonderful to one day see a film with 100% Nigerian cast, crew and financing, be the opening/closing movie for any of the top 5 film festivals in the world, and for a Nigerian director’s name to be called as the winner of the Palm d'Or (Cannes), the Golden Bear (Berlin), the Sundance/Venice Grand Jury Prizes, TIFF etc. Winning one of those could not only be a big deal for the individual filmmaker, but could make international investors (not just Hollywood/American), distributors and financiers come looking for co-production opportunities in Nigerian cinema, and possibly setting up studios to create local divisions with local talent. (Fox Searchlight did that with Bollywood in India, for example, which lead to jobs, and industry growth. No thriving film industry in the world relies only on its internal finance and talent. Even the most dominant player in the international film industry, Hollywood, relies heavily on foreign distribution for profits, and we're seeing more and more American studios and production companies team up with their equivalents in other countries - across Europe and China for example - in co-financing/co-production deals, spreading the financial burden and gains around.

But I'm hopeful, with 8 Nollywood films going to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last September as part of the festival's much welcomed "Lagos Spotlight" (the year’s pick for TIFF's annual City to City initiative). Who knows - this is something that could just be the start of the door bursting wide open for other Nigerian filmmakers down the road.

Nigerians especially reading this might be asking, what about the local awards? Why do we need international glory? Why do we need foreign recognition? We have our own industry here. To that, my response is, there is a difference between the Super Eagles (Nigeria's national football/soccer team) being African champions, and the Super Eagles being World Cup Champions. They aren't mutually exclusive; why can’t they be both? The positives outweigh any negatives in the long run.




Olu Yomi Ososanya is a writer/director and film nerd living in Lagos, Nigeria. He has written for and worked on shows for Mnet, Ebony Life TV. Films he has written and directed have screened internationally, including the Cannes Short Film Corner. Follow him on Twitter at Oludascribe. He also blogs at oludascribe.com.

by Olu Yomi Ososanya on April 20th 2017
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