The Nigerian film industry has earned reputation as a fast growing one. It is also one where huge figures fly around in terms of how much sale is being made, but it is very difficult to trace the figures to the basics.
This remained one of the contradictions that dogged the industry in 2008. In the first instance, dependable data are rare to come by, if at all they exist. The reason for this, often, is the lack of structures, the absence of which many have complained about. Secondly, it might have been safe to use the financial power of key practitioners, especially actors and producers, as an index. But if one goes beyond the showbiz razzmatazz that the actors usually exude, reality does not show that much is really entering their pockets. Ask some of them where the cash is disappearing into, they point to the houses of marketers who, in turn, are quick to point to shifty havens of pirates.
“People believe I must be very rich because of the frequency of my appearances in films,” says Nollywood actor, Ashley Nwosu. “But this has not really been so because of the different problems inherent in the industry. The money is not really ending up in our pockets.”
While Nwosu notes that 2008 was generally slowed down by the misunderstanding that reigned between the National Video and Film Censors Board, and some marketers over the board’s introduction of a new distribution and marketing regime, he identifies piracy as one of the problems that continued to battle the sector. Well, as many people, including the Director-General of the National Copyright Commission, Mr. Adebambo Adewopo, have acknowledged, Nigerian films journeyed far in many countries in 2008, only that it was pirates that spread the tiding in most cases. In a chat with journalists last week, Adebambo put part of the blame on Nigerian producers and marketers who made no conscious efforts to erect legitimate structures through which the films could travel.
Of course, stakeholders present at a forum where the Lagos Book and Art Festival recently honoured celebrated cinematographer and Chairman of Mainframe Productions, Tunde Kelani, would be able to come to terms with how the fortune of the industry dwindled in the course of the year. In his remarks at the event held at the National Theatre, Lagos, Kelani noted that the situation had become so critical that a copy of film he sold for N2,000 a few years ago, could now be obtained at the rate of N100 – no thanks to pirates that have taken over the market.
But quality constantly remained an issue in many cases, making the purchasing public to grow weary of many of the films churned out. Bad scripts, uninspiring stories and tardy treatment soiled the year for many viewers. At another level, there are fears that the rate at which new faces come on stream is getting too fast. Neither talent nor professionalism, but the urge to get part of the cake, is the incentive that drive many of the so-called new actors to location. Such quacks do receive the blessing of many a producer or director who is happy to relate with people that will collect stipends from them. Yet, while some producers will genuinely shop for new talents, others will rather overuse the known faces.
Commenting on such dilemmas, renowned scholar, writer and actor, Professor Akinwumi Isola, paints a gloomy picture of the performance of the industry in recent times. Isola, who wrote Saworo Ide, Agogo Eewo and Thunderbolt, some of the popular films produced by Kelani, said the desperation – or is it quackery – that has crept into the movie world is such that where you may be determined to spend some N3m, say, on a modestly low-budget film, there are people who will head for location with just N500,000 in their pockets. Although it is logical to think that viewers will remove the wheat from the chaff, Isola notes, such a substandard practice has affected the image and respect that people have for the films generally.
A review of some of the titles released in the year provoked one question that filmmakers should address. Which is more important: the story or the execution of it? For instance, many Nigerian filmmakers seem to pursue the story at the expense of how the story is told. To them, the end seems more important than the means the story explores to achieve it. Several films testify to this and one of them is Aralamo 1. Aralamo 1 is a good story not well told because of poor research.
In the work, a man is charged to court on account of the murder of his wife. As the story unfolds, it is obvious he is set up and the man who set him up is the same man given the task of defending him in court. For a story that deals with crime and retributive justice, the research level is almost nil. It is obvious that the scriptwriter relied on a vague knowledge of how the law courts function in writing the story.
Wholesale imitation of foreign concepts is perhaps another bane of the Nigerian film industry. This year witnessed one of such in Beyonce and Rihanna. Beyonce and Rihanna are competing music stars and one even has a boyfriend called Jay-Z (familiar?). Indeed that might show the lack of originality the film industry is witnessing currently.
The genre of comedy has not been explored optimally yet. The Baba Suwe’s kind of comedy – heavy make up, multi layered dressed character and overdramatisation, might have served its term. His new release, Ese Aaro, has the old clown coming back to find his faithful audience moved ahead. There is a consolation here, however. The film, Jenifa , suggests a new trend in humour. Widely adjudged as one of the most comical films of 2008, Jenifa is farcical and in the bid to be humorous, puts aside logicality here and there. But what it lacks in technical competence, it makes up for in humour and suspense. If the audience response is anything to go by, then 2009 might witness films cut from the Jenifa template. That means humour will be derived from ludicrousness and be soon worn out.
Saidi Balogun’s attempt at creativity did not go unnoticed with his 2-cast film, Modupe Temi. The film might have done a good job in terms of cinematographic effects and creativity but yet, Balogun’s other production afterwards make Modupe Temi look like a mere flash of brilliance.
Even the English speaking films were not explorative of new, fresher and vibrant themes. Why?, Can of Worms, Wedlock of the Gods do not say anything new, nor, at least, tell the same old story freshly.Some releases, however, did show promise. Sweet Tomorrow is an example. It is a love story that deals with the complexities of the human emotions, courage and healing for the characters.
Overall, Nigerian films must rise to the challenge of making better films in the new year especially since Ghanaian films are beginning to give Nollywood a run for their money. Gameboy and Run, Baby, Run are examples of how far and how well Ghanaian films are running ahead of the Nigerian counterparts in theme and execution of themes. Films from both countries competed strongly against each other at the last African Movies Academy Awards.