Beyond Nollywood kicks off this Friday as part of the British Film Institute’s Black Star programme which celebrates actors and filmmakers of colour. Guided by the one and only Nadia Denton, audiences will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with different genres – from short documentaries to indie features – executed with excellence by indigenous Nigerian filmmakers.
But you can’t showcase films from Nigeria without taking a look at Nollywood. Ahead of her Q&A on the final night of the festival, I interviewed the onscreen queen Nse Ikpe-Etim, a Nollywood actress so sought after, that her interview was conducted online while she remained on set in LA.
The former banker got her first acting opportunity with Reloaded, which she saw as a learning opportunity. But as luck would have it, Reloaded was nominated for an AMAA (Africa Movies Academy Award), – it seemed acting was going to work out for her. Her take on the industry and its evolution was refreshing as well as insightful.
Nollywood was built on passion and that same passion continues to sustain it and inspire new filmmakers.
Beyond Nollywood is set to introduce audiences to a different angle on Nigerian life, with storylines that move away from romance and relationship drama. Nse Ikpe-Etim is a fan of psychological dramas ‘but with strong female leads.’ It’s about the internal tug of war, rather than explosions and chases. ‘The mind is a beautiful and powerful thing and thrillers explore the best and worst of what the mind can influence us to do.’
But it doesn’t mean she looks down on the more traditional Nollywood storylines. ‘First off, there can be no new without the old. I don’t think there is a divide,’ she stresses. ‘Nollywood was built on passion and that same passion continues to sustain it and inspire new filmmakers. We are growing as filmmakers and that is evident in the variety of work you see coming out of Nigeria and that can only be a good thing.’
Curators like Nadia Denton and institutions like the BFI are recognising, highlighting and celebrating filmmakers who have chosen to demonstrate their talents outside of the more popular filmmaking. But many challenges still remain.’
‘I would say access to finance, business models and [an established] distribution landscape that allow films to reach their target audience and recoup their investment enough for the production to make a profit and grow sustainable businesses [is one of the biggest challenges filmmakers face today].’
There are also geographical barriers, Nse says, as most cinemas are in the bigger cities, so ‘a significant population of the local market is still untapped. Internationally, the films do not play widely outside the festival market as distribution and marketing is expensive. Sales agents and distributors who understand the content and the audience are not yet there to partner with the filmmakers to exploit their content effectively.‘
Nse is particularly excited by seeing the short documentary I Believe in Pink by Victoria Thomas ‘because it is a different side to Lagos that we don’t get to hear about often.
‘The city is home to so many people with so many dreams doing what they can to make it a reality and that is the power of cinema and storytelling. It opens up your eyes to the world around you.’