Nigerian filmmaker Jeta Amata
Nollywood. We all know the story; well, most of us; ok, maybe a few. A business man with a shop full of blank VHS tapes (look it up kids) decided that he wanted to do something with them, and had the epiphany to make a film. He put his team together, got his actors, had a script written and, BOOM, the first Home Video was made and a cottage industry was born. Many saw the benefit and joined in, and out of the desire to use up video tapes, we birthed our own niche film industry. A few years later, the Home Video Industry (you forgot we called it that, didn’t you) was dubbed NOLLYWOOD and the name stuck - a brand name that would create superstars (a few millionaires), adored across the continent and beyond, by Africans.
Because there wasn’t an abundance of funds, they had to use whatever resources were available, which meant low budgets, and films usually produced inside of a week. With it came criticism of the quality of some of the films, and the filmmakers responded with valid reasons. The budgets were tiny; there was no government support, no studios, soundstages or conducive shooting locations; you really couldn’t expect glossy productions that could rival what most of us were used to from Hollywood.
Wait, this sounds quite familiar.
LET’S REWIND A FEW DECADES.
Across the globe, 1958 precisely, in formerly Nazi-occupied France; A group of young film critics got tired of the rigid and clinical way of filmmaking, and the results that came from that type of filmmaking. They insisted on a naturalistic style, which broke many of the conventions of studio filmmaking, from lighting, to how the film was cut, to the movement of the camera, and awareness of the audience that they are watching a film. Thus was born the French New Wave and (Auteur filmmaking).
These rebels created a new cinematic style, invented breakthrough techniques of storytelling to express ideas important to them. Perhaps the most significant and inspiring thing was that, they proved they didn’t need mainstream industry to produce successful films on their own terms.
So you may be asking, what exactly is different about the New Wave, and what’s the connection to Nollywood that I'm implying here?
Here are a few arguments:
-- The New Wave replaced glossy studio lighting with natural and available light.
From the early days of Nollywood, most of our films were shot like this - with available light - and unlike Europe, we have tropical weather, and great sunlight all year round. So this works for us.
-- French New Wave directors recorded sound during shooting, and did not do any correction.
Ok, this one is a little tricky as it has been and still is a major issue for us: Bad sound, which can be distracting; but if we can plan it to be part of the world of the film, part of the experience, it can work to our advantage, rather than being a distraction or cringe inducing.
-- Low/No Budget Restrictions lead to thinking outside the box.
The French New Wave emerged after World War II. France which had been occupied was still recovering, which meant there was very little money going into the arts, and much less going into experimental, gung-ho filmmaking. This lead to filmmakers innovating; they produced their films on low-budgets, mostly self-financed. To cut costs, they used friends’ apartments, houses, yards, etc as locations. They also had their friends as cast and crew.
This has also been a staple of Nollywood filmmaker. There is no Nollywood producer that has not done this at some point. Basically, any filmmaker outside the mainstream system - even in the USA - does this; $30,000-$50,000 doesn’t leave much room for renting fancy locations.
-- The use of handheld cameras freed New Wave filmmakers from the rigidity of the tripod . This enabled them to shoot easily on the streets, create tracking shots, follow characters wherever they went, or invoking an intimacy, or even claustrophobic feel with the characters.
Goddard, while shooting "Breathless," pushed(and pulled) his cinematographer around in a wheelchair because he could not afford the necessary track and dolly (and he wanted to shoot quickly).
We - Nollywood filmmakers - have been doing this as well, out of necessity. And when we intentionally do this, while also having a strong narrative purpose behind it, the lack of funds can become inspire artistic and creative choices, lending something to the story.
-- Improvised plots and dialogue motivated by attempts to create realistic scenarios, and less like clinical military precision. Many films of the New Wave were not rigidly planned before shooting, and the dialogue was often changed or even written on the same day the scenes were filmed. Sometimes, the actors were only given the general idea of the scene.
This is something that has been done since Nollywood's inception, and is still very common, especially in the Asaba and Yoruba films, which have a strong following. That technic works for the kind of stories that they are telling. If done well, it can lead to fresh and spontaneous performances, injecting life into each filmed moment.
The French New Wave emerged and influenced global cinema. Despite their limited resources, the films they made sparked an American New Wave, directly influencing the philosophy of filmmakers like John Cassavettes, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and later on, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderberg, Wim Wenders and others. The fingerprints of the French New Wave can be seen in films like "Bonnie &Clyde," "Easy Rider," "Taxi Driver," "Pulp Fiction," "She’s Got to Have it" and many others. If you love the films and filmmakers that emerged in the 1970s, you have the French New Wave to thank for a lot of them.
We in Nollywood have many of the same restrictions and limitations that birthed the French New Wave. How far Nollywood has come is a testament to how resourceful Nollywood practitioners can be. We are known for our resourcefulness, producing films under difficult circumstances. Now is the time to move one step further, and become known for our art, our cinema, our expressionism. We need to further innovate and allow our creativity to produce revolutionary pieces of film art - cinema that will make the rest of the world pause and pay attention, seek to emulate and maybe even launch a Naija New Wave, which can also influence the next generation of filmmakers all over the world.
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.