While Americans sweat the fate of Independent film at places like Sundance or South by Southwest, movie-mad Nigerians flock to the outdoor electronic markets of Lagos to buy the latest offerings from Nollywood.
Inaugurated in 1992 with “Living in Bondage,” an exploitation number about witchcraft and social climbing distributed on VHS, the contemporary Nigerian film industry is one of the world’s largest, according to “Nollywood Babylon,” a documentary by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal.
The film profiles the explosive success of this truly populist cinema. The filmmakers provide a cursory survey of the evolution of Nigerian cinema – from colonial origins and decline during the economic hardships of the 1970s and ’80s to its resurrection as a D.I.Y. video phenomenon – before focusing on the contemporary scene.
We follow Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, a 37-year-old director at work on his 157th feature (take that, Fassbinder!) and learn of the stories and themes, characteristic of Nollywood movies, that propel his success: cautionary tales, rags-to-riches narratives, broad comedies and dramatic thrillers full of sex, money, religion and violence.
The documentary concludes with a provocative, if shallow, examination of the impact of evangelical Christianity on Nigerian movies. The exploitation and wish-fulfillment ethos of Nollywood, Mr. Addelman and Mr. Mallal also imply, has a narcotic function on the culture, arresting its development from “tradition to modernity.”
Such questions call for a deeper, more rigorous treatment than they are given here, though, for all its limitations, “Nollywood Babylon” serves as an intriguing primer.