Notes on Nollywood

OK, so I’m being prolific today. That’s likely because I’m working on the fourth or fifth script outline that I’ve come up with in the past two months, and none of them are coming together. So I’m scribbling by way of avoiding the “I can’t come up with a working plot” monster.

However, I just watched an awesome documentary – “Nollywood Babylon” – about feature film production in Nigeria. Turns out that those industrious recyclers and pirates are also the third largest producers of “feature length movies” in the world after India and the United States. In 2008 some 2,500 movies were made. Now, to be fair, this is a bit deceptive because there is virtually no other visual entertainment produced in Nigeria, and these movies are mostly shot on video gear that’s been obsolete here for a decade – we’re talking 8mm consumer-grade standard-def analog tape. The production quality is terrible, and the copious visual effects are laughable (the still-image of someone’s happily-seated pet dog exploding out of a “witch” is beyond comedic).

What really caught me off guard, however, was the sincerity of the people involved. They’re really trying to tell their own stories – stuff that can’t be imported because it simply doesn’t exist outside their culture. They’re doing it on a per-project budget that rarely exceeds $15,000. And, at least in the case of the movie that the documentary crew primarily observed, they’re having a damn good time being passionate about their subject matter.

They’re not making art. Hell, the lowliest Roger Corman picture was shot better than any of these movies. But they’re telling stories that resonate with the audience and sell. Astoundingly, in Lagos (a city with fourteen million residents) there are only three cinemas, and those only show imported product. The only television is 100% state controlled and focused on disseminating propaganda. So the trade in indigenously produced product is limited to CD-video sold in open markets and screened either at home or in retail shops.

Consequently it made me contemplate Canadian cinema and wonder “why the hell doesn’t anyone even try”? I suppose the answer is evident – we don’t have a strong cultural identity (other than the Quebecois), and we’re forever doomed to compare anything we do to the stuff that comes out of Hollywood. Canadians automatically limit the scope of their creative vision to fit within what they perceive is the limit of the financial environment (you’ll never get a show off the ground unless it can be made with a Telefilm budget). While that is technically an accurate statement, it’s pretty damn tragic.

Canadians are good at making entertainment. People forget that James Francis Cameron (yes, that really is his middle name) was born in Kapuskasing and raised in Chippawa, Ontario. By the time his family relocated to LA (he was 17) he’d reportedly already imagined “The Abyss” and who knows what else. William Shatner… Canadian. Jim Carry… Canadian. A significant portion of “American” filmmakers, actors and technicians… Canadian. And every one of them had to move to the US before they could make a decent living. As did I. But I couldn’t stand it.

All right – this is turning into a rant, rather than what I’d intended, which was a positive comment about an interesting show…

Which was financed by the NFB.

Gotta love that little irony.

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