Is Nollywood in crisis?
In 1992, the debut of Kenneth Nnebue's movie Living in Bondage brought a new twist to the then growing motion picture industry in Nigeria. Shot straight-to-video, it was the first Nollywood blockbuster movie which kicked off the Nigerian cinema industry. By the following year, more film makers tapped into this eye-opening trend and Nollywood was born.
Today Nollywood's growth has been stunted by piracy and lack of professionalism by many practitioners. Yet little or no attention has been paid to the potential money-spinning industry that would have been a good source of revenue for the country. Efforts by current investors in the industry have been bedevilled by piracy.
Taiwo Ajai-Lycette, a veteran Nigerian stage actress who featured in many productions in Nigeria including a TV series in the 1970s, Winds Against My Soul, expresses her angst with the quality of production and the quantity of works spurned by directors whom she says are not in tune with the times.
“We don't have to be at the state we are now when it comes to film-making in this 21st Century,” she said. “There are new technologies which some filmmakers are not conversant with. I am knocking the quality. Veteran artistes are those who have travelled on stage. The basic knowledge that you acquire as an actor is on stage which many actors today don't have.”
“You can't make money without making incredible art,” adds Ajai-Lycette. “You have to be an artiste to make it in the industry. Money is a by-product of creativity. It should come as a direct product of what we do. If we only think of the money, we are going to be poor as artistes. Thinking is a very hard business.”
Most Nigerian films are characterised by badly written scripts which lack depth. Film critics have traced this to the lack of reading culture among scriptwriters, directors and actors. And to be an artist, in Ajai-Lycette's words, “is to be absolutely widely read.” She argues that if an artiste is not educated there is no way he can interpret the works of Wole Soyinka, for example, because as a writer, he translates the philosophy of his people.
Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw-Nuttal agrees with the poor quality of work in Nollywood and the fact that Ajai-Lycette rejected the script sent to her. “It's almost three years now,” she explained, “I have not starred in any Nollywood movie. I believe I have reached a point where I have come to be known for good quality work. If the prop guys pay attention to detail and the directors do their work well, Nollywood will be a better industry.”
As a developmental step for the entertainment industry, President Goodluck Jonathan in November last year announced the Federal Government's investment of $200 million (30 billion naira) into the development of the entertainment industry. And in January this year, the president through Olusegun Aganga, the minister of finance, announced that the Special Entertainment Fund will be disbursed by the Bank of Industry (BOI) as single-digit interest rate loans.
It is the first time in the country that the Federal Government will make such funds available for the entertainment industry of which Nollywood is a big part. At a stakeholders' meeting held recently in Lagos and convened on behalf of the presidency by Oronto Douglas, special adviser to the president on policy, Mahmoud Alli Balogun, film producer and director, observed that a proper framework must be put in place for the survival of the industry for investors to get returns on their money.
“Nollywood is an industry that survives on the ordinary marketing strategy used by traders in selling their wares,” he says. “Anybody can be a filmmaker in today's Nollywood. The survival of this industry can be possible if proper structures are put in place. Our services are currently informal. We want to make them formal. It was in 2009 that Motion Picture producers of Nigeria tried to set up a model for selling our works. This can be adopted.”
Speaking from her experience as a producer, Stephanie Okere observes that investing in today's Nollywood is like putting money into an ocean without getting returns. “The hawking of movies on the streets should be banned,” she says. “To access the fund made available by the Federal Government through BoI, what we need are guarantors and not going through the Lagos Business School as the list of conditions suggest.”