THIS IS NOLLYWOOD Robert Caputo and Franco Sacchi explore the burgeoning Nigerian film industry.
Hollywood begat Bollywood, India’s extraordinary mass-market cinema. And Bollywood surely spawned Nollywood, the digital-based, populist moviemaking industry of Nigeria. In 1992, Nigeria was rescued from a mire of pirated American and Hong Kong action pictures at the marketplace and Mexican soap operas on TV. With $2000 in hand, visionaries in the capital of Lagos gambled their collateral on an issue-oriented film melodrama, Living in Bondage, utilizing Nigerian actors and crew. The response to African settings and topical African content? One million VHS cassettes were sold. Living in Bondage became the prototype for shooting fast and furious and local, with a quick sale of straight-to-video indigenous movies to the 55 million with video players.
Hooray for Nollywood! The average budget these days has escalated to about $20,000. And an eye-rolling, Guinness World Record 2000 films a year are produced in Nigeria, most of them keyed to Lagos, population 15 million. “Lagos is an incredibly dense, tense place. For the people to go home and pop in a VCD video compact disc is cultural relief,” explains Franco Sacchi, the Boston-based filmmaker whose documentary This Is Nollywood opens the Museum of Fine Arts’ Eighth African Film Festival this Friday, February 1, with an encore screening February 9. “The people relax with stories with which they can identify, and with everyday issues, in all genres: comedies, action, thrillers, horror movies, love stories. Topics include black magic, traditional medicine versus Western religion, cheating wives leaving their husbands. But there’s no nudity, no cursing, and films go through a censor board. That’s how we have statistics on the actual number of films produced.
This Is Nollywood is an amusing, informative chronicle of a trip to Nigeria by Sacchi and a skilled two-person Boston crew, Robert Caputo and Aimee Corrigan, to film the filming of Check Point, a Nollywood melodrama that’s being shot in English. The bare plot, as described by a participant: “Two young men attacked by bad cops. One escapes with gunshot wounds.” A nine-day shoot in the Nigerian countryside stretches to 11 because of all manner of bad luck. Rain. Actors who don’t show up. Electric failures. Sound problems: the shoot can’t compete with Ramadan, prayers to Allah droning for hours from a nearby mosque. “The Moslem faithful are doing their thing,” the good-natured (and Christian) Check Point ensemble shrug about the delay.
But everything pays off with the arrival at last of Nigerian superstar Saint Obi, who’s been cast as a bullying policeman. Tall and charismatic, Obi is there on Day 9 for “the road black incident,” a shootout against the cops that’s characterized by a crew member as “the real crux of the movie.”
A native Italian who settled in Boston after securing a master’s degree at Emerson, Sacchi is a filmmaker-in-residence at BU’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, which funded the documentary. “The center wanted to understand how digital technology has such an impact in Nigeria. Our plan when we went to Lagos in November 2005 was, through this one film, to capture the essence and spirit of the industry.” There had been a BBC report on Nollywood that, Sacchi says, the Nigerians disliked, regarding it as dismissive and condescending. This Is Nollywood is affectionate and appreciative; it should be endorsed by those it is filming.
“Nollywood was born without government intervention, and without Western investment,” Sacchi concludes. “Find me another industry in Africa like that. Local entrepreneurs risked their money and succeeded. And many thousands of Nigerians are sustaining livelihoods making movies!”