There’s nothing I love more than the discovery of something complicated and established that I know nothing about. There’s an entire body of work to be explored, subtleties to be discovered. My recent discovery of the Nigerian video scene is an example of this. You cannot possibly begin to imagine just how big their film culture is. I also wouldn’t necessarily call it “film culture”, either, since most of it looks like trash but there’s something to be said for a nation that creates a market that explodes like Nigeria’s has.
In 1990, there was no Nigerian film industry. Now, it’s an unstoppable force. The availability of gear for reasonable prices has allowed some filmmakers to amass a filmography of 80-100 movies in only 15 years. Takashi Miike and Jess Franco only dream of that kind of efficiency.
I don’t do a lot of documentaries around here because I’m not sure if you’ll read reviews of them. I think the only one I’ve covered here was Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and that’s just because I’m a metalhead and it was a slow day but I love documentaries when the topic is weird and quirky. Welcome To Nollywood fits the bill perfectly. It packs more fascinating information into an hour than most documentaries I’ve seen. The story of the Nigerian video industry is incredible, too!
Your typical Nigerian movie is shot on digital video in a matter of days, posted quickly and then rushed to market. I’d say the entire process from preproduction to release takes place in a matter of a couple of weeks and they do better business than Hollywood movies due to their own cultural relevance. Based on what I saw, these movies are god awful but the cultural boundaries between here and there are so great that the difference (and I’m sure the distribution) is so out of balance that Nigerians feel that they have more in common with Nigerian movies than they do Jerry Bruckheimer productions. In the first half hour, the movie focusses on two of the video scene’s biggest phenoms, Chico Ejiro, aka Mr. Prolific, a director that could put Roger Corman to shame. If you need something shot in two days and released next week, this is the guy to talk to. He has made so many movies that he doesn’t remember them all. The other director of note is Izu Ojukwu who is best known for his action movies. Ejiro embodies the spirit of the industry as it stands now. He’s reckless and almost oblivious to the fact that he’s directing garbage. The plots of his movies that he does remember are absolutely terrible and sport the worst titles you’ve ever heard of. A drama about a woman who falls in love with a blind man called Blind Love. Deadly Desire, about a man who sets his brother up to be killed so he can inherit his stuff and his wife… Just to name a couple. Yet his charisma is so strong that he could sell you on any of them. He’s more in love with the process of making the movies than he is storytelling. Ojukwu kicks them out at a slightly slower pace but he has bigger ideas, one of which is illustrated in the second half of the movie as he embarks on an Apocalypse Now scale movie about the Liberian civil war with similar production results to the Coppola fiasco.
The doc tends to lose itself in the second half. Where the first one sets you up and tells you all about it, including a trip to the Idumota electronics market in Lagos where these movies, available on either VHS or VCD are sold in massive quantity for a very small price. You also get a look at a few of them which sport actual stunts and some cheap CGI special effects. There’s also a visit to a stunt school that teaches actors to fight for the camera and how to react to having firecrackers on them for gun fights. I could have watched this for hours. A man at the head of a large group of shirtless guys throws a phantom punch and they all react to it, again and again. The second half of the movie, though interesting, sacrifices a bit of rhythm for a look at the challenges that a Nigerian film production that is more than a cheap acttion movie or love story face. Ojukwu’s production, Laviva, is bigger than anything the industry has attempted. It features hundreds of extras, real militia men and ECOMOG soldiers, gun fights and stunts but runs out of money when the production takes longer than expected. The cast and crew turn ugly when they aren’t fed and it doesn’t look like the movie will be finished.
The real drama lives in the second half but I’m an information junkie and far more fascinated by Mr. Prolific than I am about the pitfalls of trying to break your own industry’s limitations. They remark that in another ten years, the Nigerian industry will be ready to give the American market a run for it money and I can’t wait to see that day. The current Nigerian film industry has sprung up entirely on its own without the aid of government money and produces $286 million a year not to mention between 500 and 1000 movies in that year… and that number is growing. The availability of equipment and a completely unregulated market has created a boomtown where just about anyone can produce a movie and sell it in Lagos without anyone to judge them. New talent is popping up all over the place, too. It’s not inconceivable to think that Nigeria may be an actual cinema destination ten years from now. They need a couple of filmmakers who can slow it down and produce something of substance as right now their productions look like the sort of stuff Master P produces.
The movie has a fantastic sense of humor and the people involved know exactly what they’re doing. They’re trying set up a legitimate industry like Hollywood but the market is so fierce that no one can stop to take their time and produce anything that is relevant to someone outside of Nigeria. Maybe that’s not as important as I think, though. The result is a storm of $10,000 movies dealing with similar topics. Some make the best of their money, others, directed by the hilarious Chicho Ejiro, don’t really care.
Catching up with Welcome To Nollywood can be a challenge. The movie is not widely distributed and is not available to the consumer market on DVD. You can purchase a copy through the distributor, The Cinema Guild, but at a steep price of $295. Your best bet is to catch up with it at a local screening. Welcome To Nollywood may be short, but it’s not to be missed. The energy in Nigeria, for such a poor country, is infectious. Aspiring filmmakers need to have a look because if these peoeple can make a popular movie on a shoestring budget in a matter of days, you have no excuse.