Nollywood takes center stage at the Toronto International Film Festival

Editor’s Note: For more arts and culture from across the continent tune in to African Voices

Story highlights

Lagos has been chosen as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's 'City to City' programme.

Eight films directed by Nigerian filmmakers will be featured

"It's about time Nigeria started getting the right kind of attention," says TIFF International Rising Star Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama

Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world.

CNN  — 

The city of Lagos will take center stage at the Toronto International Film Festival [TIFF] Thursday.

The commercial capital of Nigeria has been chosen as part of the ‘City to City’ programme. Each year a city is selected and filmmakers living and working there are showcased. Previous featured cities include; London, Mumbai and Seoul, this year eight Nigerian films will be screened.

“Lagos is entirely unique,” said Cameron Bailey the programme curator in a statement. “The city of Fela Kuti’s music has also given birth to one of the world’s most vibrant film industries.”

“The 1,000 low-budget features ‘Nollywood’ produces each year generate about $1 billion in box office. Now, from that commercial hotbed, a new generation of filmmakers is emerging to both advance and challenge Nollywood.”

For TIFF International Rising Star Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama, global recognition of the world’s second largest film industry has been a long time coming.

“It’s about time for Nollywood to start getting the right attention,” the actress told CNN.

“I know our movies get exported, but it almost seemed like it’s because we have [Nigerian] immigrants in different parts of the world. It was still our audience demanding for it. But now a huge film festival like TIFF, this isn’t just Africans in Canada. Now we’ve gotten attention from a major film festival. “

In addition to the recognition, Iyamah-Idhalama hopes the films will showcase the wide range of Nigerian storytelling and change perceptions about Nigerians.

“A movie like 93 days is talking about Ebola and heroism in Nigeria. It’s almost an oxymoron; Nigeria and heroes,” she said. “We’re now beginning to tell stories that will motivate the average person to make a difference.”

Iyamah-Idhalama, who stars in three of the films featured at TIFF, including ’93 Days’ and ‘The Wedding Party,’ started acting in 2012, a time she says the industry started to shift.

“People were beginning to see hope,” she explained. “People were beginning to take the arts more seriously…a lot of things were happening. You could see there was a major shift that was beginning to happen.”

Nollywood generates an estimated $600 million a year and is extremely popular at home, but the industry still faces challenges.

“We have grown tremendously,” she continued. ” [But] we still have a long way to go. There’s still a structure that needs to be put in place, we still need to build an ecosystem but we’ve come a long way.”

One of the major challenges facing the industry is piracy, rampant due to weak copyright laws and enforcement. According to the World Bank for every legitimate copy of a movie sold, nine are pirated, costing the industry billions in revenue.

At a time where the Nigerian economy continues to stall, Nollywood has been touted as a lifeline but only if these challenges are tackled head on by the government.

“Let’s be honest our economy is not the best right now, but we are a people that push through tribulation,” she said.

“Entertainment is always our fallback, if we get the support that we need from the government trying to curb piracy and put certain laws in place we can do better work,” she continued. “We can export [that] and get the box office numbers without having to go through oil or agriculture.”

Despite the challenges, Iyamah-Idhalama is hopeful and excited about the opportunities TIFF will bring the industry. “I’m just excited to have the opportunity to tell African stories as an African.”

The Toronto International Film Festival has been celebrating the best of international and Canadian cinema for over 40 years, they introduced the City to City programme eight years ago. The 41st Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8 to 18, 2016.

Read more from African Voices