Article 3, Nollywood Project

As London Hosts Nollywood Conference…

Date: Sunday 05 August 2007
Publication: The Sunday Newspaper, THISDAY, Arts&Review/fim, p96

There is something excitingly innovative about the planned Nollywood conference coming up in London. If the industry’s enthusiasts seem upbeat about its growing international recognition, this is mainly because of its firm local market base. Hence, the Nigerians in the Diaspora have remained reliable points of anchorage in its spread in the international market.

The University of Lagos’s Creative Arts Department is collaborating with the Ferguson Centre/Open University on the proposed London conference. Dr. Duro Oni, the University of Lagos’s Head of the Creative Arts Department said: “The Nollywood phenomenon is certainly one of the areas of current research around the world. The current collaboration of our department with the Ferguson Centre is [to] further such research efforts from an academic perspective beyond the curiosity often associated by Western scholars on Nollywood.”

This relationship, with the Ferguson Centre, which Oni says, “is more of a personal thing”, dates back his years as the CBAAC (Centre for Black and African Civilization) Director. He had established a relationship with the centre, which led to an international symposium hosted by CBAAC on Identity Politics, Globalisation and Social Conflict. And this was in 2003. “The relationship with the Ferguson centre has continued now that I am back at the University of Lagos as Head of the Department of Creative Arts. As the department is a teaching and research one, the current research is more of an academic venture for a university. However, the Ferguson Centre still maintains a strong relationship with CBAAC.

The choice of UK, which harbours Nollywood’s largest Diaspora market, for the conference bodes well for it. This is especially because it might attract support of the British film establishment. “We are hoping that would happen with this workshop,” confirms Oni.

Indeed the first part of the workshop is billed to hold this Thursday at the British Film Institute (BFI). “It is important that key film organisations around the world such as the BFI are mainstreamed into what is currently going on in the Nigerian film and video world,” he adds. “That way, we can explore more collaborative relationships not only among scholars but also among film producers, directors and writers.”

He hopes that it should become possible for the organizations to also get involved with collaborative productions as well as with training programmes.

Invited as participants to the London conference are renowned filmmakers like Tunde Kelani and Amaka Igwe, whose films will also be screened. Oni says he would liked to have an invitation list that would include a few more filmmakers – albeit to reflect the abundance of talents in the country. But he thinks that both Kelani and Igwe are representative of the Nigerian film industry. This, he explains, is not only because “of the length of time they have been there, but also serious nature of their works.”

He would have liked to include the likes of Zack Orji, the Ejiros (Zeb and Chico), the Amatas (Zack and Jeb), Tade Ogidan and Andy Amenechi, among others. “We did make an attempt to invite Sani Mua’zu, the filmmaker, but all the time we were sending emails to him, he was out on locations without access to the internet.”

Nevertheless, the workshops and the screenings parts of the conference will be graced by Afolabi Adesanya (the Nigerian Film Corporation’s managing director) and Emeka Mba (the Nigerian film and Video Censors Board’s director-general).

Should the conference be successful, would the organisers hold next year’s edition in Nigeria? “It would be really nice for the next workshop to be brought to the base of the study,” says Oni. “At the moment, we are working on the extension of the pilot programme beyond the one year for a further three years and [are] seeking funding and support for this. We expect the Ferguson Centre to remain at the forefront along with the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos.

He lifts the veil on the plans to seek support from the UK, Nigeria and probably India. The choice of the latter seems pertinent since the next phase of the conference will dwell on Bollywood, Nollywood and the UK Diaspora. It will track the reception of the films from these industries by audience in the UK and around the world.

Perhaps, to help the future of Nollywood, the University of Lagos’s Creative Arts Department might develop a course on Film in its curriculum. That seems to be in view, as Oni confirms. According to him, the department’s current foray into the Nollywood project “is a systematic ground-testing for the ultimate goal.”

He currently has a PhD student, who is also a Research Assistant on this project and favours the field for his research.

Established in 1997, the department currently offers three degrees at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. They are in Theatre Arts, Visual Arts and Music. “Part of our vision for expansion at the takeoff of the department is to eventually become a Faculty of Creative Arts with two new departments added to the existing three. The envisaged two departments will be Cinematography and Film Studies and Industrial Design.

Among the products of the department are leading Nollywood actors like KOK, Stella Damasus-Aboderin, Ann Njemanze, Olisa Emeka, Mercy Aigbe, Jennifer Olisa and Victoria Inyama among others. “Training is needed in all the spheres. Certain things should not be done from an apprenticeship basis alone. What is required is some proper grounding in the theory of the profession before embarking on the practice. Otherwise, it would be like a man wanting to become a pilot while flying and hoping that would substitute proper training! The artistes and technical people that have received some training end up as the ones with the greatest depth and sustainability. This is not in anyway to say that talent is not important; instead talent should in fact be further developed by good training.”

Critics sneer at Nollywood’s international recognition, which they consider a product of curiosity. Would the London conference tow the same line of curiosity? “The London conference does not see Nollywood as a curiosity, but as an emerging phenomenon,” Dr Oni says. “The workshop is looking at Nollywood from different levels and approaches. The coordinators of the workshops are from different disciplines.”

The coordinators are Professor Suman Gupta (a literary expert), Professor Tope Ominiyi (a socio-linguist), Dr Françoise Parent-Ugochukwu (a film scholar and critic) and Dr Oni (who is into design and aesthetics). Besides publications, which would issue from the conference, a website would be set up for the project. Dr Oni hopes it would be updated as new materials are available.

Critics of the industry also deride its penchant for films produced in video-cassettes and DVDs. They for this reason consider it a misnomer to call Nollywood an industry. “The Nigerian video film and DVD is certainly an industry and it does not require any recognition by any research group to be an industry. The sheer number of films that are produced, the number of people involved in the production, the marketing of the films across the country and the international acceptability of the films and the constant improvement of the quality of the films made and shown on the African Magic on the Dstv channel all qualify Nollywood as an industry. With time also, the industry will continue to grow and make more impact to the socio-cultural development of Nigeria.”

So far, scholarly works on the industry are sparse and spaced out in between. “The first major publication on Nollywood was edited by Jonathan Haynes here in Nigeria and published by the Nigerian Film Corporation. It was recently republished in 2000 by Ohio University. Before then, Françoise Balogun had written on Cinema in Nigeria. Other works include those of Brian Larkin and Foluke Ogunleye. There are also quite a number of Masters dissertations and PhD theses on Video Film Industry.”

This article has been reproduced with the gracious permission of the author Steve Ayorinde and by the publishers: Punch online, the Daily Independent, Saturday Vanguard, Sunday Newspaper and Sunday Punch.