Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

From Celluloid to Video: The Tragedy of the Nigerian Film Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

From Celluloid to Video: The Tragedy of the Nigerian Film Industry

Article excerpt

IN NIGERIA, CELLULOID DIED A PREMATURE DEATH in the early 1990s. Like a shooting star, it burned itself out because it could not survive in a market determined by the golden rule of supply and demand (Adesanya 15). The film industry was still in its formative years when celluloid bade us farewell and was replaced by the video film. There are many reasons for the unexpected extinction of the silver screen in Nigeria. The primary reason is the "oil doom" that engulfed the nation in the 1980s and set in motion a host of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) (Haynes 1). In 1997, filmmaker-critic Afolabi Adesanya, who is also director-general of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), outlined the reasons for the collapse of Nigeria's film industry:

The economics of celluloid film production and marketing had been the bane of Nigerian filmmakers. Since the commencement of commercial film production in the country, and prior to the establishment of Nigeria Film Corporation's lab and sound dubbing studio facilities, production and post-production overheads had to be paid for either in British pounds or US dollars. The resultant effects were two-fold: an inflated budget and a drain on the country's foreign reserves. (14-15)

RIm is, no doubt, capital intensive. A private producer in Nigeria can't single-handedly fund his or her feature film. Kongji's Harvest (1970), directed by Ossie Davis, was financed primarily by American money. A Deusa Negara [The Black Goddess] (1978) was a joint production of writer-director Ola Balogun and Brazilian producer J. C. Valadam. A bank loan was the financial muscle behind Balogun's Orun Mooru (1982). Worse still, only a few of these indigenous filmmakers, along with Hubert Ogunde (fiyanmo [Destiny] [1986]), Eddy Ugboma (Esan [Vengeance] [1986]) and Adeyemi Afolayan (Taxi Driver [1983]) were able to recoup their budgets and turn out new films. As a result, the banks lost interest in the evolving film industry, and celluloid production gradually disappeared.

Video soon replaced celluloid, and "hare brained boys" armed with video camcorders have "beaten the genuine filmmakers to the game" and recaptured the film audience with a new wave of dramatic television productions (Ogunsuyi 69). Of course, videos are more affordable and profitable, and they can be easily sold in small shops. Several quality videos can be produced for the cost of one low-budget film (around two million Nigerian Naira, or approximately fifteen thousand US dollars). This explains the video explosion that began in the early 1990s, which Adesanya finds ironic considering how, "after twenty-seven years of hard pioneering labor, filmmakers brought a combined harvest of less than two hundred titles to the altar, while videographers, for a sweet song labor of about three years, garnered a harvest of 454 titles... "(15).

The harvest has since grown. Nollywood turns out forty to fifty titles every week for a growing audience not limited to Nigeria and the West African subregion but spanning the globe. Film critic Daniel Omatsola predicts that if celluloid were to make a comeback, its return would "be frustrated by not only the Nigerian economy, but by the villagization of the world by satellite communication" (34). The only recent flickers of celluloid we can talk of in Nigeria were produced either by multinational companies or by international NGOs, as was the case with the big-budget action flick Critical Assignment (2002), produced by Guinness Nigeria PIc. In a sense, video has probably erased celluloid from our collective memory-except for foreign films, which also come in videotape or VCD formats (though picture quality speaks for itself). Screenings in movie theaters exist only in the memories of those who were lucky to have experienced Nigeria's golden age of celluloid.

Since the late 1980s, the video industry has grown in scope and acceptance to the extent that special video screenings have been added to various international films festivals and exhibitions across the world; the world simply cannot ignore the sea of movies coming from Nigeria. …

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