Nollywood goes global as Nigeria filmmakers fight for more funding
It cost $250 000 to make, more than six times the typical budget in an industry known for shoddy shoots, poor production and filmmakers churning out features en masse to a nation of more than 160-million people, Africa’s most populous.
Nigeria started producing movies in the 1960s, though modern Nollywood started with Kenneth Nnebue’s 1992 drama Living in Bondage establishing the themes of marital discord, greed and conflicts between Christianity and traditional faiths. The West African nation made an average of 1 093 films a year between 2005 and 2009, second only to India’s 1 178 movies, according to the Unesco Institute for Statistics.
Seventy percent of the funding was raised from Nigerian investors with the rest from the UK and the British Film Institute.
"Nollywood in size is big, but Nollywood in financial terms is piddly," she says. “This film demonstrates what is possible.” There is an appetite for well-made Nigerian films. Yet with a few more than 10 cinemas in the country and a disorderly distribution network, it’s hard for producers to recoup costs on higher-budget films, according to filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe.
The 38-year-old director of 2010’s Anchor Baby, a drama about a Nigerian couple illegally living in the US, recouped the $200 000 it cost and made a small profit. The movie was released in Nigerian, Ghanaian, UK and Canadian cinemas and won 12 awards at festivals. The first Nollywood movie available on iTunes is also on Nzekwe’s own video-on-demand website. "Nigerians are doing well in international film festivals, it’s not about making a movie and going straight to DVD," Nzekwe says in a phone interview.
Getting bank financing is nearly impossible, according to both Emelonye and Nzekwe, who relied on the support of family and friends. Only a few companies &ndash such as phone companies MTN Group, Emirates Telecommunications Corporation, and lenders such as Diamond Bank – have started sponsoring films and using Nollywood stars to market products.
Nigeria’s government has realized the potential of Nollywood, which employs 200 000 people directly and another million indirectly, according to Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala. This year ministers started a three billion naira ($18.7-million) film training plan, while offering more tax relief, she says.
Nollywood needs better distribution of quality DVDs and a clampdown on piracy, according to Adi Nduka-Agwu, head of Africa business development for iROKO. In response iROKO, which started in 2010, has built an audience of 6-million users across 178 countries with more than 5 000 movies that can be streamed online for about $5 a month.
Patchy Internet networks in Africa lead to many people watching DVDs instead of streaming online, Nduka-Agwu says in an interview in Johannesburg. iROKO started supplying Nollywood DVDs to 150 retail outlets in Johannesburg in June and is looking to expand further in Africa’s biggest economy. The company has had its first request from a distributor to supply to Zimbabwe, she says.
With his next three films, Emelonye is hoping that banks, investors and companies begin to realise Nollywood’s potential. Emelonye is confident that his movies will soon generate enough box office to persuade banks to back them. "With that you can raise your standards, get bigger stars from across the world," he says.
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on books, Jeremy Gerard on US theater and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night. – Bloomberg