Joined: 17 Jul 2006
|Posted: Sat Jul 29, 2006 5:52 am Post subject: Nigeria - Many Scams, Many Films
|Although Nigeria is the scam capital of the world, its film industry is booming
Nigeria's film industry
Jul 27th 2006
From The Economist print edition
Nigerian films are so successful that the government wants to get involved
IT ALL started by accident in 1992, when Kenneth Nnebue, a Nigerian trader based in Onitsha, was trying to sell a large stock of blank videocassettes he had bought from Taiwan. He decided that they would sell better with something recorded on them, so he shot a film called “Living in Bondage” about a man who achieves power and wealth by killing his wife in a ritualistic murder, only to repent later when she haunts him. The film sold more than 750,000 copies, and prompted legions of imitators. Nollywood, as Nigeria's film industry is known, now makes over 2,000 low-budget films a year, about two-thirds of them in English. That is more than either Hollywood or India's Bollywood.
Who needs Hollywood?
Today, filmmaking employs about a million people in Nigeria, split equally between production and distribution, making it the country's biggest employer after agriculture, according to the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). The industry has sales of $200m-300m a year. There are lots of spin-off jobs on a film set, such as make-up, props and printing, as well as acting and producing, says Chike Maduekwe of Gemafrique, a film-promotion business in Lagos, and young people without a formal education can find a place. Nigerian films are still sold mainly on videocassette, not in cinemas, and are so cheap and widely available that even the poor in rural areas can watch.
Nollywood's appeal has reached far beyond Nigeria: its films are watched all over Africa, and beyond. In South Africa MultiChoice, a satellite-television business, offers a channel devoted to Nigerian films, and last week Zenithfilms, a British company which distributes Nigerian programming to airlines, said it would launch a new channel, called Nollywood Movies, on BSkyB, a British pay-television operator controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
So far, the industry has grown with little or no help from Nigeria's government. The films cost anywhere between $15,000 and $100,000 to make, and the money comes directly from the market. Producers, or “marketers”, as they are known, use some of the profits from one film to pay for the next. Banks do not lend to Nollywood, as there are no statistics from which they could estimate likely returns. But Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has now appointed a panel to devise ways to intervene in the industry to help it grow further.
Oddly enough, the government worries that Nigeria's film industry reflects badly on the country. “When I travel abroad, people complain to me about the voodoo themes and the poor technical quality compared to Western movies,” says Emeka Mba, director-general of the NFVCB. He wants to try to show filmmakers that the themes they choose can have a negative impact on Nigeria's image. Many Nigerian films involve witchcraft, or “juju”, because marketers have found that it sells especially well. Plots often use black magic as a way to explain why a man has gone from being poor to a millionaire overnight, says Onookome Okome, associate professor of African literature and cinema at the University of Alberta. Such a theme resonates in a society with great inequality of wealth. And although Nigerian films usually do have low production values, their popularity shows that they make up for it with story telling.
Nollywood is divided over whether it wants help from the government. Some filmmakers fear that the industry's growth could slow if the authorities discourage popular voodoo storylines. But many filmmakers would like the authorities to start a fund to offer cheap loans for films. It should provide access to credit, but go no further, says Mr Maduekwe. Teco Benson, a well-known Nollywood director whose recent work includes “Six Demons”, a horror film, also wants the government to organise a proper distribution system. The industry today sells its wares in three big cities—Lagos, Onitsha and Aba. Money from films sold in the rest of Nigeria mostly goes to pirates. About half of the industry's revenue is lost because of its poor distribution network, according to Emmanuel Ugo, a marketer in Onitsha.
The next stage is to try to show films in cinemas, as well as on videocassettes. By next year, says Mr Mba, there will be up to 50 modern new cinemas in Nigeria. He plans to give them financial incentives to show Nigerian films as well as foreign blockbusters. Government officials talk hopefully of Oscar awards, and a group of expatriate Nigerians set up the Nollywood Foundation in Los Angeles in February to try to establish links with Hollywood. Even if the government does more harm than good to the industry, it is unlikely to dent Nollywood's energy for long.