By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
The digital revolution in filmmaking over the last decade has given birth to an African success story: Nollywood – Nigeria’s answer to Hollywood, uses low-cost digital filmmaking and editing to tell local stories — in the process making money and creating thousands of jobs.
This do-it-yourself (DIY), straight-to-DVD and video market has in just 13 years ballooned into a US $250 million-a-year industry employing thousands of people. In terms of the number of films produced each year, Nollywood is now in third place behind India’s Bollywood and America’s Hollywood. Despite rampant pirating of DVDs and poor copyright controls, directors, producers, actors, stars, vendors and technicians are all making a living in this fast-growing industry.
The power of creative industries to create jobs and wealth has been a focus of UNESCO, through its Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity. UNESCO has been in the forefront in helping African countries re-shape their policies to take cultural industries into consideration. The promotion of cultural industries also has been incorporated into the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
What is particularly attractive about Nollywood to the poor in the South is its rough-and-ready approach to filmmaking: combining low-cost digital cameras and film editing software on personal computers, with small budgets and fast turn-around times. Films are made on location using local people. These factors make getting into filmmaking accessible and within reach of more people.
Nollywood grew out of frustration, necessity and crisis: in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nigerian cities became crime hotbeds. People were terrified to go out on the streets, and this led to the closing down of many movie theatres. Desperate for entertainment at home – and unsatisfied with foreign imports from India and the West – Nigerians turned to telling their own stories to stave off the boredom of staying in.
The film credited with sparking off the industry is 1992’s Living in Bondage – a huge financial hit credited with raising the level of professionalism and production values in Nigerian cinema.
Now, between 500 and 1,000 feature-length movies are made each year, selling well across the continent of Africa. Average productions take 10 days and cost around US $15,000 (www.thisisnollywood.com). Nollywood stars are famous throughout Africa – and Nigeria culturally dominates West Africa just as the US does the world. It is estimated there are 300 producers and that 30 titles go to shops and market stalls every week. On average, a film sells 50,000 copies: a hit will sell several hundred thousand. With each DVD costing around US $2, it is affordable to most Nigerians and very profitable for the producers.
“These are stories about Africa, not someone else’s,” well-known actor Joke Silva told the Christian Science Monitor.
Focused on Africa, the films’ themes revolve around AIDS, corruption, women’s rights, the occult, crooked cops and prostitution. They do so well because they speak directly to the lives of slum-dwellers and rural villagers.
“We are telling our own stories in our way, our Nigerian way, African way,” said director Bond Emeruwa. “I cannot tell the white man’s story. I don’t know what his story is all about. He tells his story in his movies. I want him to see my stories too.”
The big brands – Sony, Panasonic, JVC and Canon – all produce cameras capable of high-definition digital filmmaking and these have become the staple tools of this filmmaking revolution.
More and more, the films are capitalising on the large African diaspora around the world, on top of Africa’s large internal market. And this is offering a step-up into the global marketplace for Nigerian directors and producers.
The Nollywood phenomemon has been documented in the documentary This is Nollywood, directed by Franco Sacchi, a teacher from the Center of Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University.
The prospects for the industry are only looking up: the Nigeria in the Movies project has been launched to help grow the industry, establish standards, improve distribution and broaden its international appeal and awareness. It also offers filmmaking grants for neophyte filmmakers.
Of course, filmmaking can be a tricky business: authorities in largely Muslim northern Nigeria have imposed 32 restrictions on the local film industry — nicknamed “Kannywood” after the city of Kano. A six-month ban lost the industry US $29 million and put thousands out of work: a sign of the economic importance of this DIY filmmaking business. The message is clear: filmmakers need to be sensitive to the cultural norms of the communities in which they work.
Kannywood, started in 1992, has 268 production companies and 40 editing studios, employing over 14,000 people.
Adim Williams is one Nigerian director who is getting an international audience. He spends about US $40,000 on films that take two weeks to shoot. He has already secured an American release of a comedy, Joshua. Another director, Tunde Kelani, is regularly featured at international film festivals, where Nollywood screenings are more common.
And some, like young director Jeta Amata, believe Nollywood’s cheap, fast-production, DIY approach has a lot to teach Hollywood, with its expensive filmmaking and ponderous production cycles.
Published: March 2008
- This is Nollywood: A documentary about Nigeria’s booming movie industry.
There is also an inspiring trailer to the film here.
- The global charity Camfed (dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and empowerment of women) has projects to teach women filmmaking skills.
- Festival Panafricain du Cinema et de la Television de Ouagadoogou 2009: Africa’s biggest film festival.
- Naijarules: Billing itself as the “largest online community of lovers and critics of Nollywood”, an excellent way to connect with all the players in the business.
- Nollywood Foundation: Based in the US, aims to bring Nigerian films and culture to an international audience and to promote new films and new media.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DqmXBgAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+march+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Southern Innovator Issue 2:https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Southern Innovator Issue 3:https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Southern Innovator Issue 5:https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Cited in Innovation Africa: Emerging Hubs of Excellence edited by Olugbenga Adesida, Geci Karuri-Sebina, Joao Resende-Santos (Emerald Group Publishing, 2016).
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.
© David South Consulting 2022