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The Nollywood Phenomenon – Africa’s Popular cinema

The cinema of Nigeria is an underdeveloped but nascent film industry. Although Nigerian films have been produced since the 1960s, the rise of digital cinema has resulted in a growing video film industry. The Nigerian video feature film industry is often referred to as Nollywood. The term is of uncertain date and origin, but is derived from Hollywood in the same manner as Bollywood.  According to Hala Gorani and Jeff Koinange formerly of CNN, Nigeria has a US$250 million movie industry, churning out some 200 home videos every month to become the third-largest in the world after the United States and India. In just 16 years, however, Nollywood has grown from nothing into an industry that employs thousands of people.

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.

Unfazed by low budgets, enterprising filmmakers create a brash, inventive and wildly popular form of B-Movie that has Nigerians Nollywood-obsessed. In these films, voodoo and magic infuse urban stories, reflecting the collision of traditional mysticism and modern culture that Nigerians experience every day.

Nollywood Babylon presents an electric vision of a modern African metropolis and a revealing look at the powerhouse that is Nigerian cinema. Co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, produced by AM Pictures and National Film Board of Canada in association with the Documentary Channel. Nollywood Babylon also participated in the Official Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. 


The first Nigerian films were made by filmmakers such as Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde in the 1960s, but they were frustrated by the high cost of film production.  However, television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid-1980s every state had its own broadcasting station. Law limited foreign television content so producers in Lagos began televising local popular theatre productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small scale informal video movie trade developed.

The release of the box-office movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Mr. Kenneth Nnebue in the Eastern Nigerian city of Onitsha set the stage for Nollywood as it is known today. The story goes that Kenneth Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes which he then used to shoot the first film. The huge success of this film set the pace for others to produce other films or home videos.

Through the business instincts and ethnic links of the Igbos and their dominance of distribution in major cities across Nigeria, home videos began to reach people across the country. Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that pushed foreign media off the shelves, an industry now marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world. The use of English rather than local languages served to expand the market and aggressive marketing using posters, trailers, and television advertising also played a role in Nollywood’s success.

Since then, thousands of movies have been released.  One of the first Nigerian movies to reach international renown was the 2003 release Osuofia in London, starring Nkem Owoh, the famous Nigerian comedic actor. Modern Nigerian cinema’s most prolific auteur is Chico Ejiro, who directed over 80 films in an 8-year period and brags that he can complete production on a movie in as little as three days.

A March 2006 article in The Guardian cites Nigeria’s film industry as the third largest in the world in terms of earnings. The paper cites unknown sources estimating the industry to bring in US$200 million per year.

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September 15, 2009 - Posted by | 1 | , ,

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