The Emerging Video Film Industry in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects

By Ebewo, Patrick J. | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

The Emerging Video Film Industry in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects


Ebewo, Patrick J., Journal of Film and Video


MOTION PICTURES WERE REPORTEDLY FIRST SCREENED IN NIGERIA in August of 1903, when Nigerian nationalist Herbert Macaulay, in association with the Balboa film company of Spain, introduced the new medium to an audience assembled in Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos (Owens-lbie). Over five decades later, the first film production companies, Latola Film (founded in 1962) and Calpeny Nigeria Limited (1970), were established in Nigeria (Amobi). In addition to Latola and Calpeny, members of the Nigerian theater community promoted film culture as well. In fact, the current video film industry in Nigeria owes a huge debt to the pioneers of Nigerian theater, particularly practitioners of the Yoruba Traveling Theater, who branched off from mainstream theater to experiment with celluloid.

While the introduction of mobile cinema by the British during colonial times may have created awareness and interest in film, the medium was used primarily to educate Nigerians about such issues as health, sanitation, and nutrition. In the late 1960s, dramatists Hubert Ogunde, who recorded his plays on celluloid, Moses Adejumo (alias Baba Sala), and Duro Ladipo were responsible for elevating the cinema to a popular art that also contained social commentary (Ekwuazi 9). The legacy of those indigenous filmmakers was bequeathed to Ola Balogun, Ade Love, and Eddie Ugbomah-prolific filmmakers of the 1980s who extended the pioneer efforts of the early dramatists and ushered Nigerian moviemaking into the modern age.

The collapse of movie-theatergoing culture in the 1980s, caused by the incessant harassment of innocent citizens by criminals, the country's economic downturn, and various problems affecting celluloid film production, gave rise to the video film-"a less powerful but more convenient [form of] film making utilising UMatik, super VHS and ordinary VHS cameras" (Dike). Video films, known in Nigeria as "home movies," are a new initiative in popular culture, though their impact is already phenomenal. Although many productions preceded it, Kenneth Nnebue's successful Living in Bondage (1993) is credited with "jumpstarting" the video film industry.

Since the early 1990s, the industry, now stylishly called "Nollywood," has churned out thousands of titles and brought many producers, marketers, actors, and technicians into the limelight. The video film is a household word in contemporary Nigeria and has become a popular form of audio-visual entertainment. The industry has also become too significant for the world to ignore. According to a press release for a 2005 international convention on Nollywood held in Los Angeles, it has been estimated that the industry produces an average of fifty movies per week, though this is surely an exaggeration (Bequette). Video films gross an estimated 200 million dollars a year and Nigeria has been ranked the world's third-largest film industry, after Hollywood and Bollywood (India) (Vasagar). Video films are not only popular in their native Nigeria and other African countries, but in less than twenty years they have attracted the attention of many media practitioners, film festivals, and some American and European universities. In fact, DSTV (Digital Satellite Television), a digital satellite service in Africa, features "Africa Magic" (Channel 102), a channel devoted to Nollywood films.

Nollywood films are popular in Nigeria because they have Indigenous content and address issues relevant to a mass audience. Through an amalgam of Nigerian narrative techniques (African storylines) and Western technology, these films document and re-create sociopolitical and cultural events that occurred within and beyond the country's borders.1 The industry has also saved poor Nigerians the cost of procuring expensive films from the West (the price per film ranges from N200 to N400-about $2.50). Ogunleye contends that with the global world united under the sway of visual culture, the emergence of the video film in Nigeria is timely and crucial as it serves as the voice of its people and responds to the drudgery of a socioeconomic existence characterized by high unemployment and dwindling opportunities (ix). …

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