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Project outline, Nollywood Project

The Nollywood Film Industry and the African Diaspora in UK

Collaborative Project Outline by the Coordinators

The coordinators are responsible for the views expressed in this document; these views should not be attributed to The Ferguson Centre or any other part of The Open University.

This project examines the growing international marketing and reception of the Nigerian video/DVD film industry, with particular attention to consumption in the UK. This phenomenon is contextualised in terms of the manner in which the Nollywood industry has capitalised on alternative paths of global cultural circulation, and in terms of its place in the Nigerian socio-cultural context.

Background

The Nigerian movie industry could be thought of as beginning with the first independently produced film,Kongi’s Harvest, dir. Ossie Davis, in 1971. In the course of the 1970s a number of Nigerian films were released in the country, including AmadiBisi Daughter of the River, and The Mask. Later in that decade Yoruba travelling theatre groups also made the transition from stage to television to screen, with films like AiyeTaxi-DriverMosebolatan and Omo Orukan. The influences that shaped the 1970s development of Nigerian film have been variously noted. On the one hand, it has been suggested that the cinematic experience as recreation in Nigeria is a colonial inheritance. The cinema displaced traditional forms of entertainment which included story-telling, cultural enactments of songs and traditional dances as well as wrestling competitions, especially in urban centres like Lagos. The offerings included, in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly Hollywood and Bombay Hindi films – of which, the former had a particularly powerful influence on the development of Nigerian film-viewing habits. On the other hand, the role of Yoruba travelling theatre of the mid-20th century in south-western Nigeria on the development of indigenous cinema has been emphasised. In this respect the work of Chief Hubert Ogunde (1916-1990), who had founded the Ogunde Concert Party in 1945 is noteworthy. Ogunde was a leading figure in the transition from stage to screen in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, and produced the screenplay trilogy of AiyeJaiyesimi and Aropin N t’enia. Other film makers of that era included Duro Ladipo and Moses Olaiya, both of whom first gained recognition as theatre practitioners.

With the economic downturn of the 1980s came the collapse of the indigenous cinema industry, and the advent of video film making. Through prolonged periods of repressive military rule, mismanagement of resources, and the adverse effects of IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme, political and economic discouragement stunted the development of celluloid film-making. Cinema halls and production facilities were shut down. Early home-video films were produced in an uneven manner and mainly for domestic consumption. The commercial success of Living in Bondage, directed and produced by Chief Kenneth Nnebue, by NEK Videos in 1992, and thereafter of Glamour Girls in 1994, was however symptomatic of a change. Since then, despite the problems posed by inadequate infrastructure for film-making, lack of finance and a strong censorship regime, the Nigerian home video industry has grown with extraordinary speed. By the end of the 1990s it had become quantitatively one of the largest in the world, with 20 or more video films being released every week. This phenomenal quantitative growth however did not necessarily translate to qualitative standards, which continue to be regarded as poor for many such productions, and nor did it mean that the economic turnovers could come anywhere near those of established film industries in the United States, European countries, or India. In 2002 the industry was worth US$45 million according to a New York Times report. It should be noted, however, that precise figures of production and profits in this area are difficult to come by. Nevertheless the sheer volume and speed of Nigerian home video film production has earned this industry the appellation of Nollywood.

In the early 21st century Nollywood productions broke successfully into international markets, and are increasingly drawing the attention of the global media and film critics. Tunde Kelani’s video film Thunderbolt2000, for instance, was received with interest and critical acclaim in the United States. In an August 2004 comment published on Nollywood.net, Pierre Barrot, Audio-Visual Attache of the Embassy of France in Nigeria, observed:

"During the past twelve months Nigerian films have been given pride of place in an impressive series of festivals in three different continents: in Nairobi, in France, in the Netherlands, in Berlin, New York, Yaounde and Los Angeles. At the same time, shooting of Nigerian films abroad has increased considerably. […] Along with this expansion there is a genuine internationalization of the marketing of Nigerian productions. Nigerian video CDs can be found in the capitals of tens of countries, including in non-Anglophone and non-African countries. Nigerian films are conquering new territories because the domestic market is becoming too small for them. […] Whereas in all major film producing countries the films are used in at least three different markets (cinema, theatres, television and home video), the Nigerian system keeps on relying almost exclusively on the home video market."

The pattern described here has continued and grown in scope since. Nollywood films are now increasingly available on DVD. With these developments the Nollywood film industry has become subject to serious academic attention.

The international distribution of Nollywood video films naturally has an impact in multicultural contexts in North America and Europe. As a case in point, in the UK there are major concentrations of Nigerians in the Greater London area and Birmingham (the Nigerian embassy is in London and a consulate in Birmingham). Nigerian immigration to the UK for economic reasons started in the late 19th century. Significant waves of Nigerian immigration have taken place during the civil war of 1966-1970, and with the economic downturn of the 1980s. But consumption of Nollywood videos is not confined to Nigerians. The distribution cuts across a larger African Diaspora network, notably, for instance, Sierra Leoneans (a group of immigrants that has grown as a result of ten years of civil wars). It is also likely that such films are consumed to some degree by Afro-Caribbean communities of longer standing in the UK. Circulation of Nigerian videos began in areas with concentrations of Nigerian immigrants, through video rental shops. Often these were one-stop shops, such as the well-known Obalende Suya Spot at 523 Kingsland Road in North London, which also offered other services – e.g. restaurants. More recently, the African Movie Channel has been launched as a 24-hour entertainment channel run as a ‘subscription video on-demand sub-channel offering unlimited viewing of 20 fresh movies every month’, for £9.99, and ‘three pay-per-rental sub-channels (priced from £1.50 a movie for 72 hours viewing), in one channel (24052006 Tribune.com).There is also a pay to view facility on the DSTV Channel called Africa Magic that features only the African video films, mainly Nigerian ones. Similar growths can be observed in other cities in Europe and North America. The degree to which the production and reception of Nollywood video films has been affected by international distribution, and particularly in being targeted for consumption by the wider African diaspora in the West, is yet to be systematically examined.

Points of Interest

The following are the points of interest arising from this background, which will be documented and analysed in this project. The first two points will be examined to the extent that they provide the necessary conceptual and analytical framework for focusing on the third point – the third point is the core of this project (at least in the pilot phase).

• The Nollywood industry presents a growth area in contemporary film production which emerged primarily and uniquely from videos produced for domestic circulation. By capitalising on this relatively unregulated and low-cost channel of circulation it has effectively side-stepped some of the problems, economic and legal, of mainstream global cultural circulation. As such, it marks one of the alternative paths of circulation of global cultural capital, which has developed both in tune with and despite establishment/mainstream channels. It is arguably as much an aspect of the complex processes of globalizing modernism as the establishment/mainstream film industries are, though the latter are overwhelmingly the centre of media and academic attention. For those contexts, poorer developing countries, which are disadvantageously placed in an increasingly economically differentiated modern world, such alternative circulations are probably the predominant modes of modernization and entry into global markets. The case of the Nigerian video industry is of considerable interest from this perspective.

• The concentrated development of the Nollywood film industry in the course of three decades presents a process of registering socio-cultural changes in that country and of crossing socio-cultural boundaries outside that country. That process contains (bridges), within the developing forms of its products, both the peculiarities of Nigerian traditions and history, and the desires that initiate production and consumption on a larger than national basis. The nuances of this process can be tracked by analysing the content of such video films in subsequent phases, the intentions of producers and directors, the patterns of consumption, and the patterns of critical and media receptions.

• The consumption of Nollywood films by immigrant and minority groups in Western countries is one (among many others) indexes of how such groups negotiate their place in their chosen countries of abode. A great deal of research has shown that such consumption (like food, clothes, music) has a tendency to penetrate into the socio-cultural life of the country of immigration beyond the initial confines of minority consumption. Nollywood films present such a possibility in its early stages. On the one hand, these are often culturally remote in their themes and images from majority interests in UK; on the other hand, many of these are in English and increasingly available. It remains to be seen whether the Nollywood phenomenon comes to parallel the Bollywood phenomenon in the UK, and if so in what distinct ways. At any rate, the following issues are relevant to the proposed project: (a) the contributions, if any, that Nollywood films make to the socialization of a section of Britain’s population – the group described in the 2001 census as ‘Black British – African’; (b) the extent to which the growing and wider reach of Nollywood films have affected their content and production values; (c) the ways in which ‘nationality’ and national identity feature in the Nigerian video film consumption in UK.