Nollywood Babylon

Nollywood Now! is a film festival currently running in London dedicated to Nigerian popular cinema. There is week long series of screenings celebrating the creativity and energy of the world’s second largest film industry. With five feature films and one documentary, Nollywood Now! showcases the drama, tension and excitement of a truly global film culture.

Wednesday the 7th of October was the opening night for Nollywood Now! at Deptford Town Hall, in New Cross and opening up the festival was a documentary called Nollywood Babylon. Nollywood Babylon is a feature documentary about the explosive popularity of Nigeria’s movie industry. The film drops viewers into the chaos of Lagos’ Idumota market. Here, among the bustling stalls, films are sold and unlikely stars are born.

Lancelot Imasuen features hugely in this documentary, not only is he interviewed at length but we also see him at work, he states categorically, “Nollywood has practically become The Voice of Africa.” We see Lancelot auditioning and shooting the movie Bent Arrows. The year is shown as 2007 and I was shocked because that movie has just been premiered and to date it has still not been released.

Nollywood History

Before Nollywood came along Hollywood was making huge profits from a lot of Nigerians. American actor Charles Heston came from America to Nigeria in 1959 and made a speech about how it was a shame that Nigeria was importing all these American films as opposed to having a film industry of its own.

At a point when the naira was devalued, Nigeria could no longer import movies at the cheap rate.the commonality of Hollywood movies were affected by this. It was either the return of the travelling theatre or go out of business. That along with rising crime rates gave a huge opening for the Home Video market. It was said,

“Why would I want to leave my house to go to say the National Theatre and I know my car may be stolen?”

Living In Bondage

In 1992 living in Bondage first Nollywood Blockbuster, that triggered the start of the phenomenon that we call Nollywood today. Prior to living in bondage people had heard of cults and money making rituals but never seen it. This aspect contributed to the runaway success of the movie.

Voodoo in Nollywood

Lancelot touches on the subject of the prevalence of voodoo in Nollywood movies,

“I don’t see anything wrong in doing a film on rituals… Its exists… If you are not into it maybe your mother is into it, if not your mother maybe your father. It is integral in the life of a lot of Africans, but somehow people don’t want to talk about it. They think it’s dirty.”

Lancelot says that a big part of Nollywood’s success is that Africans do not follow the west in the way that they shoot their films because the tradition is different. It would be a mistake to do so. It is because of this that Africans all over the world watch these movies and relate to the issues and life presented.

Religion in Nollywood

Religion in Nollywood was covered in the documentary. The question is asked, why is there so much corruption if religion is so ingrained in Nigerian society? It is suggested that that the churches have no moral intent and are simply “therapeutic agencies” but the film makers realise that is they don’t cater to the religious majority then they may as well be throwing away money.

On the flip side we hear a someone say, “If you don’t have Jesus in a country like this then you can’t survive” From this it is evident that there is a huge demand for such religiosity in the films, and that the prevalence of religion in movies is something that reflects day to day existence in Nigeria. We hear another say, “the church is used to liberate people from the shackles of witchcraft.”

The Church and Film Making

Some churches were/are even involved in filmmaking; one such case is of that is “Liberty films” The church involved in producing these films used them for the purposes of evangelism. Films are given out to congregation members and used as starting points for discussion in bigger issues. A church member says,

“Give someone a film and then tell them afterward you can come and talk to my pastor who is also the director of the film”

I enjoyed the documentary, it was very interesting and I would recommend any Nollywood fan to try and get a copy. I learnt a lot about the history of Nollywood that I didn’t know.

The festival is still running. See the rest of the showings on the Nollywood Now website. The Festival runs from the 6th-12th of October 2010.

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