The Nollywood Phenomenon: From Analog to Digital

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April 20th 2017

Jeta Amata on set. Jeta Amata on set.

Nollywood is the phenomenal indigenous Nigerian genre of home videos that has become popular and made the actors household names on AfricaMagic channels of MultiChoice's multi-channel digital satellite TV service, DStv, Iroko TV, Ibaka TV and on other TV and online platforms. Nollywood has made Nigeria the second largest producer of movies by numbers after India’s Bollywood, and is now estimated to be worth over NG₦853.9 billion (US$5.1 billion) as at 2014, and actually boosted the rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria to make the country Africa’s largest economy under “Motion pictures, sound recording and music production,” with a huge increase of N9 trillion in size. Analysts stated Nollywood made about N1.72 trillion in 2013.

“Living in Bondage,” the Igbo language movie directed by Chris Obi Rapu, written by Kenneth Nnebue and Okechukwu Ogunjiofor (aka "Paulo"), for Kenneth Nnebue’s NEK Video Links in 1992, has become synonymous with the beginning of Nollywood, but the fact is, Nnebue actually produced 40 home videos in Yorùbá language before making his first Igbo language movie. The first Nigerian home video is “Ekun” in 1984 by the late Muyideen Alade Aromire, a popular Yoruba actor, filmmaker and founder of Yotomi TV, who studied TV and film production in Cologne, Germany. The video in VHS format was made before Kenneth Nnebue’s first Yorùbá home video “Aje Ni'ya Mi” in 1989. Today, Nollywood, including Kannywood of the booming Hausa genre is attracting movie buffs, film students and film scholars and also investors.

Nollywood started the revolution in digital film making in Africa from the days of straight-to-video productions using analog video like Betacam SP and JVC camcorders that video camera operators cradled and also carried like their babies on shoulders from one location to another. Nollywood attracted many youths, including graduates of theater arts and English from the universities, such as Ibinabo Fiberesima, first female President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Hilda Dokubo, Rita Dominic, Ejike Asegbu, Juliet Ibe, Yibo Koko, Sam Dede, Charles Okafor, Lancelot Imasuen, Basorge Tariah Jnr, Clem Ohaneze, Victor Osuagwu, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, Mike Ogbolosingha, Julius Agwu, Francis Duru, Monalisa Chinda, Thelma Okoduwu, and Patrick Otor from University of Port Harcourt and Fred Amata, Jim Iyke, Ali Nuhu and others from University of Jos. Nollywood has also produced two dynasties of notable filmmakers, the Ejiros and Amatas. While Chico Ejiro mentored by his elder brother Zeb Ejiro is the most prolific producer of home videos, Jeta Amata is the shining star of the Amata dynasty, making movies both on celluloid and digital cinema format and one of the few internationally acclaimed young filmmakers in Nigeria.

From Analog videos of the late 1980s and 1990s, Nollywood has evolved into the leading African digital cinema industry with the filmmakers using the latest digital cinematography technologies for film production. The most popular digital cinema cameras in Nollywood are Red, Sony and BlackMagic. And many of the movies have won local and international awards made by the most ambitious filmmakers. The most notable movies include Jeta Amata’s Nollywood/Hollywood films such as “Amazing Grace” of 2006 based on true life story of British slave trader John Newton's voyage to West Africa and the critical events that inspired him to write the world's most popular hymn, Amazing Grace. “Amazing Grace” won the Best West African Film Award in the 2006 Screen Nations Awards, UK and Amata’s “Black November” was among the top Nigerian films in 2012; Nollywood diva Stephanie Okereke’s “Through the Glass”, 2009, was also a fantastic romantic comedy with an international cast;. Lonzo Nzekwe’s “Anchor Baby” won the Best Film prize at the 2010 Harlem International Film Festival in New York; Chineze Anyaene’s “Ijé, the Journey” of 2010 also boosted the profile of Nollywood internationally with official selection in 18 international film festivals and winning five major awards, including a coveted award for Best Picture and another one for Excellence in film making; Mahmood Ali-Balogun's “Tango with Me” of 2010 is also worth commending. Other outstanding films include Michelle Bello’s multiple award winning first feature film, “Small Boy” of 2007; Chike Ibekwe’s first feature “Eternal” of 2009 shared the Golden Screen prize for the best film award with “An Unusual Woman” by Burkinabe director Abdoulaye Dao at the 14th annual “Ecrans noirs” Film Festival in Yaounde (Cameroon) and has been screened at other international film festivals; Obi Emelonye has made the outstanding movies “Mirror Boy”, “Last Flight to Abuja” and “Onye Ozi”; Teco Benson, Izu Ojukwu, Kunle Afolayan, Lancelot Imasuen, Chico Ejiro, Emem Isong, Tade Ogidan, Funke Akindele and others have also made good movies.

Film awards have also boosted the progress and success of Nollywood as the filmmakers, actors, actresses and others compete to win coveted prizes at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Best of Nollywood Awards, AfricaMagic Viewers' Choice Awards (AMVCAs and others.

The Film schools such as the National Film Institute in Jos run by the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) has produced international award winning filmmakers like Mak Kusare and Kenneth Gyang, Emem Isong’s Royal Arts Academy and Del-York Creative Academy are among the leading film schools in Nollywood. The late Amaka Igwe, the amazon of Nollywood’s studios and Best of the Best African Film and Television Programmes (BOB TV) market have been contributing so much to the sustainable development of Nollywood. The film schools have boosted the capacity development of the Nigerian film industry with the graduates increasing the numbers of professional practitioners in Nollywood who will be making more movies in all genres.

The next ten years will be the most dynamic years of Nollywood, because of the emergence of the most ambitious movies already being made like Lancelot Imasuen’s epic “Invasion 1897”, Kunle Afolayan’s “October 1”, Izu Ojukwu’s “76” and Dapo Adeniyi’s “Ake”, from Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka’s memoir “Ake: The Years of Childhood”. And more will come with the increase in the number of screens by the leading cinema chains of Silverbird Cinemas, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, Film House Cinemas and new ones to increase the local film distribution of Nollywood movies. Local and international film festivals will also increase the appreciation of Nollywood and among the leading film festivals are the biennial Zuma Film Festival, annual Abuja International Film Festival, African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), iREP International Documentary Film Forum and In-Short Film Festival. There are also revival of outdoor cinemas with the launching of the Screen Naija One Village, One Cinema Project co-sponsored by the Bank of Industry and other similar initiatives.

The $200 million Entertainment Intervention Fund of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Bank of Industry (BOI) and Nigerian Export Import Bank (NEXIM) and the Project ACT-Nollywood with a budget of N3 billion have been launched with successful production of two major films; Tony Abulu’s “Doctor Bello” and Biyi Bandele’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” and grants have been given to many producers for world class trainings in the US and UK and for new film productions. Funds will also be given for new cinemas.

The popularity of digital film distribution with successful mobile applications and platforms such as Iroko TV, Afrinolly, Dobox TV and others in the biggest and largest mobile telecoms market in Africa will increase the mileage and patronage of Nollywood with over 125 million users of GSM phones and Tablets and over 67 million users of the internet in Nigeria, the most populous country in the continent.

Without the news media, Nollywood would not have become so popular, because the local and international news media channels have been promoting the appreciation of Nollywood movies and Nollywood stars since “Living in Bondage” to date. If the newspapers, TV channels, blogs and other news and information platforms did not report new movies with highlights of their producers and stars, none of them would have been celebrated in Nigeria and abroad. Therefore, the success of Nollywood has been boosted by publicity from the first home video ‘Ekun” to the most expensive Nigerian film “Half of a Yellow Sun”. In fact, the more publicity you give a movie, the more public attention and reception it will get. But many Nollywood movies have flopped, because of poor publicity and the lack of appreciation of the social media by the filmmakers and film distributors who have not been maximizing the benefits of the popular social media platforms on the internet. The future of Nollywood will be dictated by the popularity of digital media for digital filmmaking and digital film distribution and anyone who is not digital compliant in Nollywood will be left behind.




Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima, Publisher/Editor of the NOLLYWOOD MIRROR® SERIES and other books

by Michael Chima Ekenyerengozi on April 20th 2017
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