Moving Nigerian filmmaking beyond Nollywood

Mary Njoku, Director - General ROK studios
Being a filmmaker in Africa comes with many challenges
05:41 - Source: CNN
Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

After decades of churning out drama on daily life and social customs in Nigeria, Nollywood has grown into a 239 billion Naira industry ($658 million) and grabbed global attention.

However, a new generation of filmmakers, like C.J Obasi who directed “Hello Rain”, a Nigerian sci-fi film is looking to chart a departure from the conventional and move Nigerian filmmaking beyond Nollywood’s typical offerings.

“When you think about the Nigerian film industry you automatically think about Nollywood, but with Nollywood comes a certain style of film, a certain genre of film, a certain aesthetic that is associated with Nigerian filmmaking,” Obasi told CNN.

“But then there is a new breed of filmmaker… who want to tell new stories, make new films and really explore genre filmmaking in a way that hasn’t necessarily been seen.”

The new breed that Obasi speaks of is made up of young filmmakers, who for all their ability, are short on experience and the resources they need to challenge the industry.

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    Platforms like Afrinolly, a creative hub, have emerged to fill that void by connecting and training these young creatives.

    But according to its founder, the biggest hurdle may be the pressure to balance their expectations and be profitable.

    Money matters

    “It will always be about the money for us here because we don’t have enough cinemas, we don’t have enough outlets,” says Jane Maduegbuna, Afrinolly’s executive director.

    “It’s always going to be how you get great content for less money and then get it out to as many people as you can.”

    Biola Alabi, the founder of an eponymous media outfit is concerned about how the lack of resources may also affect the capacity of these new creators to compete on a much larger scale.

    “The budgets globally are so huge that for an independent production company in Nigeria to compete will always be a challenge and I think that’s why it’s important to figure out different ways to change your model,” Alabi told CNN.

    “That’s what we are constantly trying to do, trying to find ways to improve on the model and find ways to get economies of scale, collaborations and that’s one of the things we weren’t doing a lot of in Nigeria and I think that’s going to change in the next ten years.”

    Nigeria attracts a lot of investment and with the added popularity of its film industry, one would expect that foreign funding could bridge the gap.

    Potential vs. numbers

    But according to Alabi, things are a lot more complicated.

    “When you look at a place like Nigeria there’s so much to invest in and investors have their pick and to invest in media is much more challenging.

    “I think investment continues to be the biggest concern people have. Investors are interested they are just not used to the long return in investment cycle that film and TV requires.”

    But in the face of such steep odds, there is little doubt about the ambitions of these filmmakers.

    Wanuri Kahiu, a Kenyan filmmaker, knows that talented filmmakers “exist from the CAR [Central African Republic] to the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], they just possibly haven’t had the opportunity to be able to get the funding or resources to make their film,” she told CNN.

    She should know. Despite being initially banned in Kenya,“Rafiki”, her 2018 movie about lesbian love made history as the first Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in the “Un Certain Regard” category, reserved for emerging directors or unexpected themes.

    “(The) international exposure of the films that are coming out at the moment does encourage other filmmakers to see that it is a possibility and that it can happen and we have proved that it can,” she says.

    A new spectrum

    As the popularity of cable channels like Africa Magic will testify, Nigerians love Nollywood.

    Recently, the release of movies like “The Wedding Party”, “Date Night” and “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel” were eagerly anticipated moments.

    The goal of the new generation of filmmakers is to build on the industry’s achievements and, for Obasi, to extend the spectrum of what a Nigerian movie can be.

    “I don’t think it should be the definition of an entire industry. I think it should be the definition of a certain kind of film,” he says of the term Nollywood.

    “It should just be Nigerian film or Nigerian cinema just like any other film that comes out of America is American cinema.”