18 Aug

West African Video Boomtown! Welcome To Nollywood.

Posted by Bryan White | Monday August 18, 2008 | Reviews

Welcome To NollywoodThere’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.

17 Comments 

  1. August 18, 2008 8:27 am

    Tom Clancy

    It’s not available yet, but you can add it to your Netflix queue in case it ever comes out on DVD. No release date is provided.

  2. August 18, 2008 9:42 am

    Lurple

    I’m not sure “efficiency” is the right word for putting out 80-100 movies in 10-15 years, but you have to admire their enthusiasm!

    With that much stuff coming out I’d imagine there’s at least one person with some talent that will show up sooner or later.

  3. August 18, 2008 9:48 am

    Bryan White

    I’d really like to get my hands on some of the movies, but I doubt that there is any availability outside of Africa since the formats are pretty limited. Izu Ojukwu made a movie called Who Will Tell The President that looks pretty promising and I guess was the movie to kick off the possibility of Nigerian action movies. That’s the sort of thing I can get into.

  4. August 18, 2008 10:46 am

    Lurple

    Yeah… I have no idea how I’d get contacts in Nigeria to hook us up with some films. I’ve been wondering the same thing about some of the South American countries recently.

    Maybe that Nigerian diplomat who’s always emailing me about his desperate need for help with a confidential overseas money transfer could help.

  5. August 18, 2008 10:57 am

    Bryan White

    Concerning 419 scams and the Nigerians who perpetrate them, this qualifies as one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvyrzQldOKE

  6. August 19, 2008 1:53 pm

    Peter Beardsley

    There’s a segment on Nollywood in the documentary Good Copy, Bad Copy (available for download at http://www.goodcopybadcopy.net/). Definitely worth watching.

  7. August 19, 2008 6:14 pm

    John Fanning

    hey all…
    There’s one site on the web that’s a main portal for Nollywood movies, some are available for sale (VCD only, as that is the preferred format for ALL Nollywood movies), it’s based out of Baltimore, called Vinam Movies (vinammovies.com) and their YouTube channel is THE place to see trailers, which actually is my preferred way to check out the films (www.youtube.com/user/VinamMovies), there’s over 800 videos there!!!! I am pretty into the Nollywood movement myself, I totally love the DIY ethic.. Copyright really doesn’t even exist in Nigeria, so it’s a real free-for-all. Genius!

    hope that helps!
    John

  8. August 19, 2008 6:19 pm

    John Fanning

    oh yeah, forgot also about Izogn, where you can check out movies too, though I haven’t plunged into it just yet, it could be worth it: http://www.izognmovies.com/

  9. August 20, 2008 12:54 am

    Lurple

    Thanks John, I will check those out. :)

  10. August 20, 2008 10:52 am

    Tim Fife

    I watched about 20 trailers with John Fanning last night of these Nollywood movies. The trailers are great, but those movies look fucking awful, worse than anything from Turkey. I liked how some movies were 2 movies in one (ex: Snake Woman 1& 2), and the romance movies look great (ex: Emotional Crack). They also have a huge fixation on Christianity it seems, as there are many movies that deal with the devil and possession. And the sound sounds like they put a microphone right up to a turned up boom box.
    What’s next? Movies from Sierra Leone?

  11. August 20, 2008 12:33 pm

    Lurple

    I also watched several of the trailers last night. Holy shit. Golden Axe has special effects that look like they were generated with something slightly better than MS Paint.

    I’m not sure I’d survive an entire movie; I didn’t realize Charles E. Cullen had an entire industry of competition for making the worst movie ever! You sure can’t say they lack enthusiasm, though, and I’d still like to see an example of one of their better movies.

  12. August 20, 2008 7:30 pm

    When Nollywood Attacks | lurple.com

    [...] for a little while now. If you’re not familiar with Nollywood and want to know more check out Bryan’s latest article on the subject. It’s apparently not uncommon for teams in Nollywood to put out a movie in a couple [...]

  13. September 21, 2008 7:16 pm

    andy

    there’s a free nollywood channel on britsh sky tv. they show about 40 movies a day. i think that’s as fast as they make them.

  14. January 1, 2010 2:33 am

    Teecup

    Nollywood movies you might enjoy:

    White Waters (This one is inspiring)
    Sitanda
    Cindy’s notes
    Laviva.

    Enjoy.

  15. January 17, 2010 6:48 pm

    femi BEAG

    well your aticles is indeed speaking your mind concerning nollywood ,well as a practitioner in nollywood .i am seizing this opportunity to say a very big thank you to you for spending such a huge amount of time to research your stories about nollywood even if half of it is actually fabricated and also the amountg of time and brain storming for these story to make this page.but sir i will only like to draw your attention to the fact that not even hollywood started fron where it is today the only constant in life they say is change.so we need people like you arround who will not do any reasonable thing to better their livges but to alway accusing finger at some who dare to try play in a new environment.the INDIA MOVIE ARE FAR better than the american films today because thyey as a people have decided to improve on their craft but the american still asume the we are the boss…hello guys wake up it is the 21st century every one is trying new grands and nollywood is not an exception.today we are not the best but there is room for improvement….NOTE..THERE ARE SOME FILMMAKERS IN NIGERIA THAT CAN STAND ANYFILMMAKER SHOULDER TO SHOULDER THOUGH FEW BUT THERE ARE …..

  16. May 13, 2010 5:30 pm

    RME

    This is just hilarious. But there are a couple of wonderful ones out. As mentioned above
    White waters is great
    Cindy’s Note
    Guilty Pleasures
    Figurine Araromire
    Ije the journey.

    You should definitely check out the trailer of figurine. Its actually not on dvd yet cuz its playing on cinema. But I have seen it during its premier and its far from the mass rubbish been produced. Picture/story/ acting, wonderful

    @Femi, I am a Nigerian and a film maker based in scotland. A far as I am concerned, Bryan has not said anything false. He only analysed the documentary welcome to Nollywood which was very accurate in its depiction of Nollywood movies. Yes, you make a good point abt film getting better in ohter countries like Bollywood cinema but naija in general (not just nollywood) still has a long way to go.its issues run very deep.

  17. July 30, 2010 6:48 pm

    Jude

    I believe Nollywood film industry is actually helping the African film industry. It helps Nigerian writers and directors tell our own stories from our own point of view and not Hollywood’s point of view. The quality is also getting better and will soon catch up to international standards. Take this new Nollywood film “Anchor Baby” for instance. It was written and directed by a Nigerian director Lonzo Nzekwe and the lead actress is also a Nigeria actress Omoni Oboli. The picture quality is on the same standard as most films shot in Hollywood. Here’s a link to their trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Yx_kiBOZDA


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