Nollywood may be second only to India, the world’s largest film industry; it may be valued close to US$5 billion; it may have an audience that stretches across the continent and beyond but it still faces widespread criticism for its lack of sophistication and craftsmanship.
Not for much longer though; a new generation of Nigerian filmmakers looks set to change all that.
Young film directors, like Abba Makama, Walter Banga and CJ Obasi, are crafting new cinematic experiences for their audiences, which are a world away from standard fare of tales of love and witchcraft. This is a new kind of Nollywood.
For Makama, film director and founding creative director of media company OSIRIS, new Nollywood, is about two things: novel stories and better film production. ‘Technology available today, in the film industry in Nigeria,’ he says, equips filmmakers with the ‘tools and power’ to tell ‘different kinds of stories’; they no longer have to be love stories. His short film, DIREC-TOH, the story of a director struggling to shoot a feature-film in a day, won best actor and several nominations at the 2011 InShort film festival.
‘It is possible to pen a script on your laptop and shoot it the next day with your phone.’
Different kinds of stories are also on the mind of director CJ Obasi. His 2013 horror-thriller Ojuju – a love letter to Night of the Living Dead director George Romero – received critical acclaim internationally, winning Best Nigerian Movie at ARIFF (Africa International Film Festival). His soon-to-be-released, latest film O-Town is another surprising genre adaptation. It’s a Spaghetti Western-style thriller.
‘Change is inevitable’ says Obasi. Developments in technology have decentralised the process entirely, creating a flexibility that never existed when he was growing up. ‘It is possible to pen a script on your laptop and shoot it the next day with your phone.’ He quickly adds, though, that this still requires the modern-day Nigerian filmmaker to master the technology.
Obasi grew up in Owerri, a quiet little Nigerian town, where he remembers watching old black-and-white Hammer House of Horror films on television with his family. ‘They never scared me,’ he says proudly, citing them as early influences on his work.
Makama attributes his origins as a filmmaker to drawing and painting from an early age.
Makama, who references director David Lynch as an influence, calls his own work ‘quirky’; others label it ‘different’. His latest film Green White Green is loosely autobiographical. It is the story of three young boys, coming together from different ethnic backgrounds, to make a film. ‘A film within a film,’ as Makama describes it and adds that the script was originally written in 2005, a time he was just starting out in the industry. Some things take a long time to produce but are worth it. This heartfelt coming of age story driven by Makama’s socially consciousness is beautifully shot and graded.
‘I have always been a story teller,’ says Makama. He attributes his origins as a filmmaker to drawing and painting from an early age. In spite of a brief period of conformity in his student days, when he studied management at the University of Jos, a later move to New York allowed him to delve into his passions.
‘I would pick up a camera and shoot home videos.’ Even in those days, he clearly showed an interest in sophisticated filmmaking, shooting in black and white and not using over-the-top transitions or dissolves. It was a natural step to want to return home and make films in an industry beginning to make its mark.
Typical filmgoers in Nigeria tend to be settled, married, middle-aged or older. Here again, the wind of change is blowing.
For director, Walter Banger, creator of film, The Wages, the 2012 winner of the AMVCA short film category, his journey into the Nigerian film industry began as a writer. Now he pushes his audiences into territory, which can be very alien for them. At an industry viewing of one his films, a rape scene was featured which showed the perpetrator vomiting into the camera afterwards.
‘I could see they felt uncomfortable watching the vomit spill over the camera,’ Banger said but ‘I wanted that. I wanted them to feel uncomfortable, the same way, the perpetrator felt about his actions. I wanted to provoke that reaction in them.’
Typical filmgoers in Nigeria tend to be settled, married, middle-aged or older. Here again, the wind of change is blowing. Makama, explains the need for more youthful content in Nigerian filmmaking. He talks about new demographics and about looking for a fresh audience, a younger audience.
Challenges are ‘part and parcel’ of the territory carved out for those whose material and outfit really fit into the independent filmmakers’ category.
But the journey for new Nollywood is not without its difficulties. Director CJ Obasi speaks of ‘gate-keepers to the industry’, resisting ‘change and the new’ but he remains optimistic of the industry evolving, whether some people like it or not.
For Walter Banger, challenges are ‘part and parcel’ of the territory carved out for those whose material and outfit really fit into the independent filmmakers’ category. ‘It is those challenges that make you a creative,’ he declares.
In the early stages of his most recent film Gbomo Gbomo Express, Banger deliberately sought the advice of film distributors on certain aspects of filming, to help make the later stages of distribution considerably easier.
Novel material will sometimes demand novel approaches, it seems.
Gbomo Gbomo Express by Walt Banger slated for release late 2015.
Green, White, Green by Abba Makama is scheduled to be out in early 2016.
O-Town by CJ Obasi should be out early 2016.