If most practitioners of Nigerian motion picture industry, otherwise known as Nollywood, have their way, they would wish for 2017 not to go away, at least not so quickly.
It was a year that could best be described as remarkable for the industry. It was a year the sector recorded some fantastic and not too fantastic productions.
Even though critics agree that it was generally a year of acclaimed big budget productions, some of them argue that the crappy productions (those without depth far out-numbered the well-helmed movies) released in cinemas and straight to DVDs in 2017.
In fact, a notable critic had remarked that if a conservative figure of 200 movies were released in 2017, about 80 percent of them qualify only as what could be deployed to instruct students of film schools on how not to make films!
The industry drooled in quantity but lacked quality as usual. A cursory look at the content of some of the movies released still shows a yawning gap in technical details and inconsistencies in such ‘must’ areas as editing, lighting, cinematography, costuming, make-up and sound. In most of the movies, art was sacrificed on the altar of meeting commercial and cinema deadlines while there were a number of the offerings that were spurious, superfluous and which explored naïve story lines.
Nevertheless, 2017 was also one when the industry recorded good box office returns. At the last check the bright, bold and funny romantic comedy by the Elfike collective, The Wedding Party: The Destination (TWP2) reportedly made over N800 million in just two weeks of cinema release in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom. It has been selling out to full cinema audience and chances are that it could do more in terms of figures.
Its distributors, FilmOne Distribution, are already eyeing over N1 billion box office’s taking before the movies third and fourth week run in cinemas. Though there are other movies that grabbed the million-naira range during the year like Alakada, Isoken, Omoni Oboli’s Okafor Law and Ayo Makun’s 10 Days in Sun City, the success of TWP2 dwarfed whatever figures those other movies made at the cinema.
For observers, the movie’s revenue haul has shown that moviegoers would pay to see a film with the right production values that they also consider entertaining. Observers believe that one other thing that the Elfike collective (EbonyLife Television, FilmOne Productions, Ink Blot and Koga Entertainment) has going for the first and second diet of the movie is their ability to have the movie leverage on a unique business model that is rarely explored in Nollywood – an unorthodox promotional mix combined with high quality production.
One other plus for the movie industry in 2017 was the involvement of the banks. The banks showed more than a passive interest in the affairs of moviedom. Access Bank Plc returned to the scene with its support for the capacity building efforts of the Chioma Ude-led Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) while the Bank of Industry (BoI) gave financial support in the form of single digit interest loans to film producers and to those interested in creating infrastructure for the industry such as cinemas and studios. Indeed, in less than two years of the existence of the fund (N1 billion BoI-Nollyfund was launched in 2015), BoI has impacted positively on Nollywood with its unique NollyFund.
The evidence is in the number of movies it has funded and the number of cinemas that have been built. Movies like Isoken, Lasun Ray’s The Bridge, Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO, Okey Ogunjiofor’s Amina, Emem Isong’s Ayamma, and Opa Williams Three Wise Men were produced with funding support from BoI. Also, Filmhouse Cinema has expanded as a result of the intervention of BoI. The same thing goes for studios like Four Scream Studios, Kingsley Ogoro Studios and the AfriNolly studio that have witnessed tremendous expansion as a result of the loan facility from BoI.
IN spite of the successes recorded in 2017, some top Nollywood practitioners still believe that the year presented a mixed grill for the industry. Filmmaker and founding chairman of the Audio-Visual Rights Society of Nigeria (AVRS) Mahmood Ali-Balogun is of the opinion that 2017 witnessed a sort of motion without movement, especially in terms of improvement in the policy environment and the quality of movies that were released. Although Ali-Balogun agreed that the year witnessed lot of offerings, he averred that there was total decline in the art of storytelling.
“We need to up the ante as storytellers so as not to lose the traction gained in years precedent,” he advised.
For founder and Chief Executive Officer of Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, the celebration of mediocrity characterised movie produced in Nollywood in 2017. Looking ahead, the AMAA CEO wants attention to be paid to the establishment of structures that are critical to the development the film sector.
According to Osigwe, who has kicked off preparations for the 14th edition of AMAA, said, “The achievement of Nollywood will only come when the structures like that of piracy, distribution, co-production and professionalism are implemented and government realises that Nollywood and the creative industry should have professionals within the fields that regulate it rather than a dumping ground for political associates.”
Also, the producer and director of acclaimed box office movie, Tango with Me, also believes that distribution was skewed despite little increase in the number of screens. Ali-Balogun alleges that there is a seeming emergence of a new cabal in the distribution and exhibition sub-sectors of the industry and that if it is not checked, it has the potential of causing the industry to drift to post-World War II anti-trust scenario in the U.S. which tried to muscle competition from independent producers.
“It took the U.S. Supreme Court to stem that tide,” he said. “I’m hoping this will be stemmed in 2018.”
On the issue of policy environment, Ali-Balogun said, “There seems to be no walking the talk! Appointments to key agencies are so bizarre – with square pegs in round holes; policy initiatives are not followed through and, for obvious reasons, there is lack of synergy among drivers of the agencies in the sector.”
The filmmaker canvasses unity of purpose among practitioners while anticipating the formal establishment of the Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MPPCN), whose establishment, he said, “will help mitigate some of the challenges we face as an industry today. It’s a sine qua non.”
Notable filmmaker and CEO, November Productions, Charles Novia, said Nollywood had a year of flatlines in 2017. Although he alluded to the fact that there was an upsurge in the number of movies that made the cinema run, Novia, who is also the CEO of Teen Africa TV, described the artistic quality and the dramatic value of 95 per cent of the movies as ‘horrible.’
He explained, “Almost every producer tilted towards the comedy genre and we saw a rash of films with tepid humour, with many mostly with ensemble of comic cast, who had no bearing to the plots or direction of such movies. It was as if every producer wanted to get a forced laugh from the audience and in the process, the most asinine devices of buffoonery were employed in the movies. Any instagram ‘celebrity,’ who has a million or two hundred thousand followers was inveigled on films with resultant effects on plot progressions and overall denouement.”
Although Novia agreed that Nollywood is an industry in progress, the content producer is of the opinion that the industry is deficient in scriptwriting talents presently.
“What we have today are mainly copy and paste writers, who have watched every Hollywood series and film and delights in using those foreign templates to write African stories,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. There is a special engagement Nollywood had in the past with its primary audience, and this enabled it to produced hits and classics. There have been no classics produced in the past three years or so. None, mainly because of shallow stories and a propensity to copy foreign templates.
“Commercial successes at the box office by Nollywood producers in the past three years, too, are not classics; so, we don’t get it twisted. A classic movie endures; it captures the imagination of the viewer and remains in their hearts forever. In other words, we lack stories, which have ‘heart.’ We are looking more at the bucks being brought in and discarding the essence of the films – the story, the screenplays and the production values in the end. It’s all about the script. I hope we improve in 2018.”
Also, founder and Executive Director of Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Chioma Ude, believes that Nollywood should look beyond slapstick comedies that dominated the viewing space in 2017 and produce fares that would be acceptable beyond Nigeria.
“Slapstick is good for Nigeria, but our kind of slapstick is not what they want internationally. They want our stories and they want us to keep them authentic,” she said, adding that plans for 2018 for the industry should be for ‘education and certification’ and also on how to break out internationally, as the industry is yet to fully exploit the international market.
If there is anything the President of Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Ralph Nwadike, wished should end with 2017, then it is the internal strife and the demarketing that played out among practitioners. Nwadike felt the industry could have achieved more but for the attitude of some practitioners, who he said projected ‘self first before the industry.’
In his words, “We are still bugged down by ‘If it’s not me, then nobody can do it mentality.’ We fight, de-market each other’s project as well as destroy one another at meetings and events with the corporate world. Even government was nice to us and through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, government almost became part of us, but the usual ‘pull-me-down’ syndrome has continued, so much so that the minister himself said we are too divided to achieve something meaningful. There is too much of internal wrangling and power tussle.”
However, Nwadike is hopeful that things will shape up in 2018. He envisages that there would be more local and international productions, especially now that government is more than determined to create the enabling environment for the growth of the industry, as evidenced by the tax holidays, which investors in the industry now enjoy and the speedy review of the copyright bill.
Notable filmmaker and Fellow of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Francis Onwochei, shares in Nwadike’s optimism.
While acknowledging that there was significant improvement in the overall value chain of productions, Onwochei expects that in 2018 there will be increased advocacy towards strengthening institutions in the environment and not using political considerations alone in appointing CEOs for agencies in the creative sector.
Also, the Battle Ground actor wants critical efforts to be directed in supporting emergence of community-based cinemas for an improved return on investment
On his part, filmmaker and administrator of the film-focused WhatsApp group, Ibadan Film Circle, Niji Akanni, expects films of English-language expression’s continued dominance in cinemas in 2018. He believes regional cinema practice in indigenous languages would continue to stagnate and possibly slide into oblivion, as did the Yoruba cinema practice in 2017. He frowned at some practitioners’ obsession with the comedy genre of movies and the ludicrous extent they took it.
The director of award-winning Aramotu and Heroes and Zeros expects that the international distribution/exhibition space for Nollywood films will expand in 2018 since Nollywood is fast redefining itself in the context of global mainstream entertainment.
He also said, “I also think that 2018 will feature more cyclical cinema, whereby any incidentally successful form/genre of a film becomes the model that will set the pace for others to follow. Comedy, especially the spectacular, highly physical and exotic type, will still be the leading form in the Nigerian cinema of 2018.
The so-called ‘alternative’ cinema, which features socially-conscious films, made in subtle language, will definitely continue to live at the margin of mainstream Nollywood, but the space of that existence is likely to become smaller.
Three main reasons will ensure this. First, the ‘market forces’ of popular audience’s taste and the profit-motive of Nigerian theatre owners will continue to favor the ‘it’s all about entertainment’ cinematic formulas that were winners in the last year.”