Steve Ayorinde article, Nollywood Project

Talking Nollywood in Queensland

At a time when Screen Africa reports that the popularity of foreign films is growing in Britain, Nigeria‘s new cinema offerings found enthusiastic reception among academics and African Diaspora communities recently. Multiple screenings of films by ace cinematographer and culturist, Tunde Kelani, and Amaka Igwe, turned out to be the icing on the cake of the four-day workshop, The Nollywood Film Industry and the African Diaspora in the UK, jointly organised by the Ferguson Centre of the Open University, the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos and the British Film Institute; with support from the Nigerian High Commission in London.

Between Thursday August 9 and Sunday August 12, 2007 when the event held at different venues, Nollywood had a rare opportunity to impress the academics and professionals at the workshop and moviegoers of diverse background that saw Kelani‘s Abeni and The Narrow Path, and Igwe‘s Images of Another Day (directed by Izu Ojukwu) among other films.

Each of the screening, either at the Nigerian High Commission in central London or at the scenic location of the BFI, spurred emotional moments as well as intellectual appraisal of the Nigerian film industry that has emerged the most dominant in Africa in terms of its high turn-over of drama contents for both local and continental screens.

A Caribbean woman was moved to tears after seeing Abeni II at the High Commission. The screening on August 9 was the first time she would be visiting the Nigerian High Commission 12 years after joining human rights activists to protest the killing of the playwright and Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, by the Nigerian military regime headed by Gen. Sani Abacha. ”Today, I remember Nigeria for good reasons. After the outpouring of 1995 when Saro-Wiwa was killed, I am now happy that a great occasion about the Nigerian cinema has brought me back to the Nigerian House in London on a good note,” she said.

Meant to gauge the impact of the new Nigerian cinema on the African Diaspora in the UK, the Nollywood workshop fulfilled its mission largely, especially at the closing event, ‘Lagos to London: A Nollywood Masterclass,’ which held at the BFI. If Nollywood had craved an opportunity for a mainstream parley with the British and the black Diaspora community in the UK, it was a masterclass.

It provided a good platform through the interactive session involving Kelani, Igwe and the Head of Department of Unilag‘s Creative Arts department, Prof. Duro Oni, who was one of the chief organisers of the workshop.

Each of them spoke on the different aspects of the Nollywood phenomenon.

Kelani also showed a two-minute footage from his latest film, Pourquoi moi (Why Me?) to emphasise that his direction now is world class digital films that can be screened anywhere in the world.

Members of the Blackfilmakers UK, Chief Executive officer of Screen Nation, Mr. Charles Thompson and Kolton Lee, whose film, Cherpes, had a number of London-based Nigerian actors, were all at the event.
The idea of the workshop started a year ago when Oni, as a Fellow of the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies of the Open University nurtured the idea together with the Director of the Centre, Prof. Suman Gupta.

Preliminary survey on the understanding and impact of Nollywood in Nigeria and its acceptance among the African Diaspora in the UK were carried out by Oni and a few of his graduate assistants. The results of the survey were part of the academic presentations at the workshops that held at the London study centre of the OU.

It was an opportunity to tell Nollywood story from the multi-dimensional perspectives. There were the viewpoints of the professional through Igwe and Kelani, who used the opportunity to reflect on his days in London as a film student in the mid 1970s. Film administrators in persons of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Film Corporation, Mr. Afolabi Adesanya and the Director General of the National Film and Video Censors Board, Mr. Emeka Mba, spoke on behalf of the government, tracing both the history and governmental interventions in the motion picture industry, through power-point presentations. There was also a paper on the Representation of Nollywood in the Media.

Additionally, two academic papers by UK-based dons, Prof. Tope Omoniyi of the Roehampton University (What‘s in a name? Nollywood, Diaspora and Identities) and Françoise Ugochukwu of the Open University (Nollywood from obscurity to the limelight – a brief survey), showed just how much the spread of Nigerian home-videos have become a growing subject of interest among academics worldwide.

And like the Acting Nigerian High Commissioner in the UK, Mr. Dozie Nwanna, said, ”Presented with an opportunity to tell its own story, Nigeria has is responding creditably well through the moving pictures.”

This article first appeared in Punch on the Web, Sunday 26 Aug 2007
Author: Steve Ayorinde