Filmmaking News in Nigeria (The Evolution of Filmmaking in Nigeria)

With little or no standard structure and opportunities like its counterparts, the filmmaking industry in Nigeria (Nollywood) has found ways to thrive and sit atop the industry in Africa.

Known as the 5th largest movie industry in the world according to Wikipedia, the industry has provided over 1 million jobs for people in the country. According to Sahara Reporters in 2015, Nollywood is worth over $5billion with over 50 movies produced each week.

A report from US News, confirms that Nollywood is the second-largest filmmaking industry in the world in terms of volume, well ahead of Hollywood and second only to India’s Bollywood. In 2013, Business Day Newspaper rated Nollywood as the third most valuable film industry in the world based on the industry’s enormous leap to N1.72 trillion on its worth and revenues generated.

Filmmaking News in Nigeria

The development of motion picture in Nigeria can be divided into 4 eras – Colonial era, Golden age, Video film era and New Nigerian cinema. Some of the notable names that played important roles in the development of the industry were Herbert Ogunde, Baba Sala, Moses Olaiya and Tunde Kilani.

The Colonial Era

This era predates Nigeria independence in 1960, going as far back as the 19th/20th century. During this era, the movies produced were foreign movies and they were promoted by foreigners. Nigeria’s first contact with film was in 1903. It was a silent film from Messrs Balboa of Spain which was screened for 10 days consecutively at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. The screening was spearheaded by Herbert Macaulay, one of the prominent founders of theatre and film in Nigeria. The success of Balboa’s film paved the way for other Europeans investors to exhibit their movies in Nigeria, with Lagos as its first point of contact before delving into other cities in the country.

Before the start of world war II, the colonial government in Nigeria did not show interest in filmmaking in the country. In 1939, W. Sellers established the Colonial Film Unit (CFU), which was in charge of making movies and highlighting the objectives of the movies which were majorly war-related, aside from trying to convince Nigerians to see the Germans as their sworn enemies in the films, another reason for the CFU was to propagate British imperialism.

palaver - The evolution of filmmaking in Nigeria
A scene from Palaver showing Jean Stuart’s arrival

The first film to feature local actors in Nigeria was a 1926 film titled Palaver. Palaver was a silent film written and produced by Geoffrey Barkas. The movie, which was filmed in Bauchi, Nigeria is about a conflict between a district officer (Peter Allison) and a tin miner (Mark Fernandez). This era quickly came to an end after independence.

The Golden Age

After independence in 1960, the CFU was changed to the Federal Film Unit (FFU). The main aim of the FFU was to produce documentaries about the country. With the emergence of numerous cinema back then, many Nigerians became actively involved in films and filmmaking with a slow but steady shift from colonialism to neo-colonialism.

One major thing that paved the way for filmmaking in Nigeria was Yakubu Gowon’s indigenisation decree in 1970. The decree allowed the transfer of ownership of about 300 film theatres from foreigners to Nigerians. Another major reason for the growth of filmmaking in Nigeria was the 1970s oil boom. Around this time, the cinema culture in the country was growing rapidly. Thanks to the oil boom, there was enough disposable cash to frequent the theatres and cinemas.

Around this time, the first indigenous film – Kongi’s Harvest – was produced by Ola Balogun and Francis Oladele. Kongi’s Harvest was an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s book of the name. Although the actors were mostly locals, the movie was directed by an African American,  Ossie Davis, and it also featured many foreigners as crew members.

Kongi's Harvest - The evolution of filmmaking in Nigeria

Motion pictures around this time were wildly accepted that the Yoruba Travelling Theatre practitioners decided to adapt most of their stage plays into movies (thus, inspiring the next era). Some of those films were Aropin Tenia, Jaiyesimi, Ija Ominira, Owo L’gba.

Two of the major films at that time included Papa Ajasco (1984) by Wale Adenuga which became the first blockbuster, grossing approximately N61,000 (approx. N21,552,673 in 2015 money) in 3 days and Moses Olaiya’s Mosebolatan (1985) which grossed N107,000 (approx. N44,180,499 in 2015 money) in 5 days.

Around the late 1980s, the Goldern era started to decline. The diminution was due to several factors such as piracy, stakeholders neglecting the growing industry due to the oil boom – which also affected other sectors in the country, lack of standard studios and equipment for production and editing of films, constant change in structural adjustment programme due to the constant alteration in government (coup and military dictatorship).

Some of the major propounders (actors and filmmakers) of this era were Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya, Duro Ladipo, Ola Balogun, Wole Amele, Eddie Ugbomah, Tunde Kelani, Adeyemi Afolayan, U.S.A Galadima, Kola Ogunmola, Sanya Dosunmu, John Ifoghale Amata, Moses Adejumo, Olu Jacobs, Tade Ogidan, Femi Aloba, Ladi Ladebo, Afolabi Adesanya, Isola Ogunsola, Awada Kerikeri Organisation, Baba Sala.

The Video Film Era

The adaptation of several books into motion pictures and the television boom in the late 1980s, including some of the factors that led to the decline of the previous era paved way for the video film era.

This era also known as the Home video era started in the late 1980s – early 2000s. It was a major era that drastically changed the Nigeria movie industry. The video film era was inspired by the Yoruba Travelling Theatre practitioners and adopted by Babatunde Adelusi (Adamson)  and distributors at Alaba market to reinvent a dying industry.

The first home video produced was Ade Ajiboye’s Soso Meji in 1988, It was first screened for a little token at Tinuade Cinema in Oworonshoki before it was released in videos and sold across the country, another movie that followed in this stride was Ekun (1989) produced by Alade Aromire. Ekun was screened at the National Theatre, Orile Iganmu.

One of the most prominent movies of that era was Living in Bondage which many believed kick-started the boom of the Video Era. Living in Bondage was produced by Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, directed Chris Obi Rapu and written by Kenneth Nnebue. Other films released in the early period of this era also include Circle of Doom (1993) and Glamour Girls (1994).

Living In Bondage - The evolution of filmmaking in Nigeria
Living In Bondage (NEK Films )

Some of the major propounders (actors and filmmakers) of this era were Amaka Igwe, Alade Aromire, Zeb Ejiro, Chico Ejiro, The Amata brothers, Femi Lasode, Liz Benson, Kenneth Nnebue, Richard Mofe Damijo, Zack Orji, Pete Edochie, Sam Loco Efe, Yinka Quadri, Jide Kosoko, Omotola Jalade, Genevieve Nnaji, Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Joke Silva, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, along with others who were part of the Golden era, such as Tunde Kelani, Olu Jacobs, U.S.A Galadima.

In this era, Nollywood got its boom, it provided over a million jobs and contributed about 5% to the country’s GDP. With the mass production and distribution of home videos, the industry could not but be noticed across Africa and beyond. In 1993, the first film festival – National Film Festival – was held for the first time in the country with 81 movies – 50 Yoruba language films, 25 English language films, 5 Hausa language films and 1 Igbo language film – screened. In November 1995, the Nigerian government established the Nigerian Film Institute, Jos to help develop young talents in the country.

In the early 2000s, the movie production had doubled compared to what was being produced in the 1990s with over 1000 movies produced yearly. According to the Filmmakers Cooperative of Nigeria, every film in Nigeria had a potential audience of 15 million people in Nigeria and about 5 million outside Nigeria.

With Nollywood movies setting the pace for Africa, there was a large number of influx of actors from other African countries especially Ghana into Nollywood. The wave was so strong that it went on to influence the cultures in different African countries which caused the leaders in some African countries to fight back stating that they were trying to prevent the Nigerialization of Africa.

Movies in this era were produced with an extremely low budget which could never have met international standards. They were shot using cheap video cameras without the required cinematic quality and edited with basic VCR machines. Some of the movies take as short as 3 days for the production of an entire movie with some filmmakers and actors complaining about the unprofessionalism and lack of structure in the industry.

By 2005 –  2008, there was massive copyright infringement and piracy in the industry, so much that the World Bank estimated that about 90% of the DVDs circulating Nigeria were illegal copies, with new releases enjoying only two weeks window, before the sales of pirated copies. At this time, many Nigerians had started to yearn for better movies with higher quality.

The New Nigerian Cinema

This is an emerging phase in Nollywood which started in the mid-2000s. It was a subtle move from the Home Video film era to this emerging phase. In the early 2000s, several conferences, meetings and workshops were held to restore professionalism in the industry. Some filmmakers and producers took bold steps to actualise this that they produced films such as Thunderbolt, Madam Dearest and Dangerous Twins  that are different from what was known as the norm at that time.

The figurine - The evolution of filmmaking in Nigeria
Theatrical poster from Wikipedia

One major movie that set the pace and outlined a defined part for this emerging era was Kunle Afolayan’s Figurine. The movie gave a new perspective to filmmaking in Nigeria and a forerunner for other good movies in the industry. The Figurine was an instant success and was greatly accepted by Nigerians and beyond. It was a commercial success and was screened in international festivals. After the great acceptance of The Figurine, Nigerians saw a need for more of such movies hence the beginning of the era that paved way for the production of other movies of its kind, such as The Wedding Party, New Money, Alter Ego, Dinner, Mr & Mrs, Phone Swap, Flight Flight to Abuja, 10 Days in Suncity, Irapada amongst others. These movies grossed millions of Naira in the box office ranging from 6,000,000 – 500,000,000.

alter ego - The evolution of filmmaking in Nigeria

This era is not just an era for quality and high budget movie, it is a renaissance of the Golden era, a rebirth and re-acceptance of the cinema culture in Nigeria. One major need for the renaissance was the need to stand as a firm industry in its own stead and also to emulate their counterparts in other countries. The first and most acceptable cinema house in the country was the Silverbird Cinema which was first located in the highbrow areas in Lagos before later diversifying into other areas in the country. In less than 10 years other film houses such as Film House, Genesis Deluxe, amongst others sprang up in various part of the country to promote the movie industry in the country and producers saw a need to thrive and not misuse the opportunity of the rebirth.

With this era comes a wider acceptance of Nollywood films, not just in the country but in the whole of Africa and beyond. Different awards like the AMVCA and AMAA have been organised yearly (with Nollywood performing credibly) to support and encourage actors and filmmakers; the emergence of different film academies; the emergence of reputable film festivals such as Africa International Film Festival, Lights Camera Africa, Abuja International Film Festival, Eko International Film Festival among others and the start of indigenous online streaming services like iRoko TV, iBaka TV and CixTV.

Since its inception in the 19th century, Nollywood has evolved despite so many challenges, it has gotten recognition from international film agencies and has earned the right to be screened at various international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Film Festivals, Toronto International Film Festival.

For filmmaking in Nigeria, this is just the beginning, the evolution of the industry does not end here. For every moment great strides are taken to place our marks on the map.

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