Nollywood begins to rivals Bollywood in film production stakes, says UNESCO study

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India remains the world’s leading film producer by number of films made but Nigeria is closing the gap after overtaking the United States for second place, according to a global cinema survey conducted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). The survey established that Bollywood produced 1,091 feature-length films in 2006 compared to 872 productions (in video format) from Nollywood. In contrast, the United States produced 485 major films. However by revenues Hollywood probably still holds the top slot.

According to the UNESCO survey, the three heavyweights were followed by eight countries that produced more than 100 films: Japan (417), China (330), France (203), Germany (174), Spain (150), Italy (116), South Korea (110) and the United Kingdom (104). These and other findings were collected through a new international survey launched by the UIS in 2007 with financing from the Government of Québec.

“Film and video production are shining examples of how cultural industries - as vehicles of identity, values and meanings - can open the door to dialogue and understanding between peoples, but also to economic growth and development. This conviction underpins the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity” said Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO. “And this new data on film and video production provides yet more proof of the need to rethink the place of culture on the international political agenda.” Overall, the survey yielded data from 99 countries. It is important to note that response rates were limited especially among African countries where there is a general lack of statistical information on cultural issues.

Despite its limited coverage, the survey provides a unique perspective on how different countries and regions are transforming traditional approaches to the art and industry of filmmaking especially in video and digital formats. In particular, the explosive growth of Nollywood attracts considerable attention, especially in developing countries looking for alternatives to the U.S. or European models of film production and distribution, which require considerable investment.

To begin with, Nigerian filmmakers rely on video instead of film to reduce production costs. And as the survey points out, Nigeria has virtually no formal cinemas. About 99% of screenings occur in informal settings, such as “home theatre.”

Finally, the UIS survey reveals another key element of the Nigerian success story: multilingualism. About 56% of Nollywood films are produced in Nigeria’s local languages, namely Yoruba (31%), Hausa (24%) and Igbo (1%). English remains a prominent language, accounting for 44%, which may contribute to Nigeria’s success in exporting its films. The survey also revealed considerable linguistic diversity in film production in Spain and Canada. In Spain, almost 69% of films were produced in Spanish, 12% in Catalan, about 9% in English, 4% in Basque, almost 3% in French and 4% in other languages. In Canada, 67% of films were produced in English and 31% in French in 2006.

However, English remains the dominant language in filmmaking globally. In total, 36% of films produced in 2006 were shot in English, according to the survey. U.S. films continue to dominate admissions globally. Although the survey is not exhaustive, a clear trend emerges when considering the provenance of the top ten films viewed in diverse countries All of the top ten films seen in Australia, Bulgaria Canada, Costa Rica, Namibia, Romania, and Slovenia were made in the USA, according to the survey. There were however some notable exceptions. Bollywood productions were the obvious favourite in India. In France, seven out of the top ten films were French. And in Japan and Morocco, domestic productions accounted for five out of the ten most widely viewed films. The survey also addressed additional issues related to the digitalization of films, the types of cinemas available in selected countries and information concerning co-productions and distribution networks. The UIS has prepared a short analytical paper on these data (available in English and French). All of the results can also be accessed at the UIS Data Centre.

According to the organisers of the Festival Vues d’Afrique de Montreal African countries like Cameroun, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Burkina Faso have made good films, thanks to the new possibilities offered by digital cameras, a lighter and less expensive technology than traditional cinema equipment. “This new generation of scenario writers jumped over the 35 mm stage, usually reserved for the elite, to only use digital which is more practical to express itself. It is as if they had never had fixed telephone and that they went directly to cellular! ” said Damien Chalaud, one of the organisers of the Festival. So in spite of financial restrictions, certain countries of the African continent have both quality and quantity in terms of their productions, according to Chalaud who confirmed that Maghreb countries and South Africa lead in this respect.

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