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Nigeria's film industry second only to Bollywood in scale

world Updated: May 02, 2010 10:32 IST

Their films are also about love and honour, families and ghosts and in spite of two-thirds of its population living on less than a dollar a day, Nigeria has the world's second-largest film industry, next only to India.

Nollywood, as it is called, provides Africa, and beyond, with a steady stream of action flicks and love stories and was declared by UNESCO to be second only to Bollywood, based on the number of films produced.

At least 900 films will be produced in Nigeria this year, twice as many as in Hollywood, German magazine Der Spiegel reported.

Nollywood is a USD 200-million business in a country where 70 per cent of the population still lives on less than USD 1 a day, where residents can consider themselves lucky if the power is on for two hours a day, and where raw sewage runs through open canals along the streets, it said.

Nollywood is a major employer in the country, next only to the oil industry. It has its own stars and red carpets and even its own version of the Oscars - the African Movie Academy Awards.

Hundreds of thousands of the home videos it produces are displayed on dealers' shelves, in the form of VCDs and DVDs, and the films are also broadcast on television channels like Africa Magic. Hollywood films have almost no role at all in this country, the magazine said.

Nollywood's success began in 1992, with the film "Living in Bondage" about a man who falls under the influence of a religious cult, and about money and black magic.

In the film, which suggests the new wealth in Nigeria is the result of demonic practices and leading to inequality and suffering in the country, people suddenly found a voice.

Instead of showing their film in expensive cinemas, the producers distributed it as a so-called home video, which gave them access to a completely new market.

At its height, shortly after the end of the military dictatorship in 1999, Nollywood was flooding the African market with up to 2,000 films a year, and Surulere, the nightlife district in Lagos, became its creative centre.

Filmmaker Dickson Iroegbu wants to prevent corruption from taking hold of Nollywood and strangling it, as happens with almost all industries in Nigeria. He wants to make Nollywood visible to the rest of the world by promoting quality and creativity.

Martin Onyemaobi is regarded the king of low-budget flicks in the country.

An average Nollywood film costs USD 20,000 to make while a same Hollywood production costs about USD 100 million, says Onyemaobi, who has financed 50 films.

Government film subsidies are almost nonexistent in Nigeria, and if there are any subsidies, most people assume that the money never leaves the pockets of those at the top echelons of industry unions.

At first, Onyemaobi borrowed money from banks and private business people, but now, he says, he has enough capital of his own.

He sells up to 3,00,000 DVDs or videos of a single film, at 250 Naira (1.20 euro) apiece. "I fork out money, hire a producer and off we go," he says. His current hit "Royal War", set among the Yoruba people, is about a girl who is supposed to be married to the Yoruba king. "50,000 copies sold in the first six months," says Onyemaobi.

Marketers like Onyemaobi produce up to 20 films a year, on paltry budgets upwards of 6,000 euros. The films are shot with a single camera, usually in about a week's time, complete with ketchup blood, ghost tricks and low-quality computer animation.

Nigerian films are exported to other African countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa, and also to the US, England and Germany.