Africans, camera, action: 'Nollywood' catches world's eye
Byline: Abraham McLaughlin Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 12/20/2005

(LAGOS, NIGERIA)Hurtling out of his chair into the faces of two actors, a top Nigerian
movie director yells, "Cut, cut! That's not good acting. It's terrible."

It's 6 p.m. on the set of Adim Williams's new political thriller. No
one has had lunch. The crew is cranky. The actors keep flubbing the

With its $40,000 budget and two-week shoot, this movie is typical of
"Nollywood," Nigeria's slapdash industry, where quantity has long
trumped quality. But Mr. Williams's films are increasingly being seen
worldwide, and he's adamant this one be top-notch. Lunch can wait.

After years as the snickered-at stepchild of global movie industries,
Nollywood is blossoming. Bringing in as much as $100 million a year,
it's third behind Hollywood and India's Bollywood in revenues. But more
important, Nollywood's rise represents a unique cultural moment, people
here say: African stories are finally being told by Africans themselves.

"These are our stories about Africa, not someone else's," exults Joke
Silva, doyenne of Nollywood actors.

She cites 1997's "Amistad" as typical of Hollywood's handling of
Africa: "It was a really strong story with a slave actually being the
catalyst for his freedom, but somehow the Anthony Hopkins character
[who played John Quincy Adams] ends up being the hero," she laments.
"That was unforgivable."

Likewise, the run of Africa-oriented movies in US theaters recently -
mostly notably "Hotel Rwanda" - have featured American stars or
characters in lead roles.

But with Nollywood films being appreciated more widely, changes are

* Nollywood directors such as Williams are in demand across Africa. He
recently got $5,000 - and red-carpet and motorcade treatment - just to
schmoozein Uganda.

* Americans are also intrigued. Wesley Snipes scouted dealmaking
opportunities here in September. And a team of independent American
marketers sealed a deal recently with Williams for his first US
release, "Joshua," a comedy that will come out on DVD this month.

* Works by Tunde Kelani, the Francis Ford Coppola of Nollywood, and
others, are increasingly touring international film festivals. The
Montreal, Berlin, and Cannes festivals had Nollywood events and
screenings this year.

* Hot young director Jeta Amata just finished his first 35 millimeter,
theater-quality movie, a historical epic called "Amazing Grace" about
the iconic song, the tune of which apparently originated in Africa. Mr.
Amata and investors are confident the film will be a cross-over hit
with both Western and African audiences. He has a South African
distributor, NuMetro, and is currently in talks with an American

* Nollywood's influence is so strong across Africa that there's been a
backlash against Nigerian movies in nearby Ghana, where police have
reportedly been raiding shops selling Nollywood videos, though it's not
clear what laws have been breached. "They're struggling not to be
colonized by Nigerian movies," Williams says, laughing. Other countries
are just hustling to copy Nigeria: Uganda is trying to jumpstart

The basic Nollywood formula is that cheaply made films are rushed
straight to videotapes and DVDs - then often pirated endlessly.
Producers and directors don't see much of the money their films make,
which causes much hand-wringing - and calls for more-secure
distribution channels.

The films themselves often involve zany plots designed to teach a
lesson, with many including black magic and dire consequences for

Nollywood's stories are "very black and white" compared with Hollywood,
Ms. Silva says - and that explains their appeal across Africa, where
religion-based moralistic strains are popular. A "Hallelujah" sub-genre
even involves timely interventions by Jesus Christ in daily affairs.

But Nollywood is tackling tough social and political issues, too.

Williams's film centers on a power play between a president and vice
president - who, shockingly, discover they have the same mother, which
helps bridge the divide between them. Coincidentally, there's currently
a real-life power struggle between Nigeria's president and vice
president over 2007 elections. "No relevance at all" to current events,
says Williams with a smile.

And there's the recent "Women's Cot," starring Ms. Silva, which centers
on a cultural practice whereby a man's family grabs all his property
when he dies, leaving his widow destitute. Silva's character and other
widows form a powerful group to prevent the practice. But they become

The message: Traditional norms may be flawed, "but be wary of women if
they get too much power," Silva says. It's part of Nigeria's national
debate over tradition versus modernity, which resonates across Africa.

Even as Nollywood gains global respect, though, it has much further to
go, says Mr. Amata, sipping a drink at a ritzy Lagos hotel. He's riled
up about the side-show treatment that Africa's film industry got at
Cannes this year.

With Hollywood facing declining box-office revenues, Nollywood can
teach it some lessons, he insists, such as how to make cheaper films.

He also speaks of the benefits of the less-rigid, more improvisational
style employed by Nollywood directors.

"We have things to learn from them, but there's a lot they can learn
from us."



(c) Copyright 2005 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.