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Home / Entertainment / Nigeria's little known film industry springs a surprise

Nigeria's little known film industry springs a surprise

You've heard of Hollywood and Bollywood. But Nollywood? Well, Nigeria's $500-million film industry that is the world's third largest, will make an impact globally this year, says a top US ad agency.

entertainment Updated: Jan 04, 2008 16:18 IST

You've heard of Hollywood and Bollywood. But Nollywood? Well, Nigeria's $500-million film industry that is the world's third largest, will make an impact globally this year, says a top US ad agency.

JWT, one of the largest advertising agencies in the US, ranks 'Nollywood' high for 2008 in its just-published report.

"These people, products, places, services and shifts will help define 2008," Ann Mack, director of trend spotting at JWT, was quoted as saying.

There is a huge difference between the flourishing filmmaking industries Hollywood and Bollywood on one hand and Nollywood on the other. Unlike the first two, filmmakers in Nigeria make films under the worst circumstances and the budgets are minimal.
An average production takes just 10 days and costs approximately $15,000. Yet in just 13 years, Nollywood - as JWT calls it - has grown from nothing into a $500 million-a-year industry that employs thousands of people.

Currently, some 300 producers churn out movies at an astonishing rate - "somewhere around 2,000 a year".

The credit for the dramatic growth in the Nigerian film industry goes to entrepreneurship and digital technology.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lagos and other Nigerian cities faced growing crime and insecurity. Theatres were closed down because people were scared to venture out after dark. Videos for home viewing imported from the West and India were mildly popular.

That's when Nigerians grabbed the opportunity and decided to fill the gap with their own products.

According to experts, the credit for making Nollywood goes to a businessman who needed to unload thousands of blank tapes and to the 1992 video release of "Living in Bondage", a movie featuring a tale of the occult that was an instant success.

It wasn't long before other would-be producers jumped on to the bandwagon.

Nigerians are tech-savvy and adopt new technologies as soon as they become affordable. The technological invasion replaced bulky videotape cameras with digital descendants, which are now being replaced by HD cameras.

Editing, music, and other post-production work are done with common computer-based systems. The interesting part is that the films go straight to DVD and VCD disks.

Every week, Nigerian filmmakers are delivering about 50 new titles to shops, where an average film sells 50,000 copies. A hit movie sometimes crosses several hundred thousand.

Disks sell for around 200 naira each ($1=118.5 nairas), making them affordable for most Nigerians and providing astounding returns to producers.

Shooting is inevitably delayed by obstacles unimaginable for Hollywood or Bollywood but the filmmakers brave the odds to entertain their countrymen.

For instance Lagos, which is home to 15 million people and is expected to have 24 million by 2010, is a nightmare of snarled traffic, pollution, decaying infrastructure and frequent power outages.

Actors frequently don't show up when they're supposed to because they are overloaded. Local thugs disrupt location shooting. They extort money for protection before they allow filming to take place in their territories.

Yet Nollywood producers are undeterred. They know they have struck a lucrative and long-neglected market - movies that offer audiences characters they can identify with in stories that relate to their everyday lives.

Western action-adventures and Bollywood musicals provide little that is relevant to life in African rich districts, slums and remote villages.

Nollywood stars are native Nigerians. Films have familiar settings and the film plots depict situations that people understand and confront daily like romance, comedy, the occult, crooked cops, prostitution and HIV-AIDS.

"We are telling our own stories in our own way. That is the appeal to both filmmakers and the audience. The appeal stretches far beyond Nigeria. Nollywood films are becoming popular all over English-speaking Africa and have become a staple on M-NET, the South African based satellite television network," said Nigerian director Bond Emeruwa.

The last few years have seen the growing popularity of Nollywood films among African Diaspora in both Europe and America.