“Nollywood Babylon,” which screens this week at the Sundance Film Festival, is a raucous ride into the heart of the budding Nigerian film scene.
The movie industry there, called Nollywood, flourishes in one of the poorest nations on Earth. Movies are homegrown and accessible to tens of millions of Nigerians who otherwise couldn’t afford to see films because cinema houses are too expensive.
“Most things in African are so unbelievably dark and there is a lot of will, and a huge against-the-odds sort of thing going into the creation of this Nollywood thing,” said filmmaker Ben Addelman, who shot the documentary with co-director Samir Mallal. “They have come up with their own grass-roots shooting style and distribution model, it’s guerrilla off the charts.”
“They also export outward to people in Jamaica, and other areas of the Carribean are watching these movies,” Mallal said in an interview Thursday in Park City.
The Canadian filmmakers decided to make the documentary about one of Africa’s movie epicenters after seeing the Nigerian flick “Emotional Crack,” directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, known as “Da Governor” and one of Nigeria’s most prolific filmmakers.
“Nollywood Babylon” follows “Da Governor” — who is 36 years old and has made about 156 movies on set in Lagos, Nigeria.
“We wanted to know more about where ‘Emotional Crack’ was made because it was unlike anything we had ever seen before,” Mallal said. “They make films for really cheap and they shoot them in a week, and they’re popular all over the world. It was a different kind of story about Africa.”
Many Nigerians are devout evangelical Christians and Nollywood films often portray battles of good versus evil, Addelman explained.
“A lot of the scenes in the movies show someone deviating toward witchcraft and then they’re punished for that,” Addelman said.
Meanwhile, Addelman said, Nollywood movies are viewed daily by nearly 80 million Nigerians in Africa’s most populous country.
“The story of Nollywood is a story of making something out of nothing, using technology and innovation to create your own voice, while competing against the behemoth of Hollywood,” Mallal said. “If you go to Nigeria now nobody’s watching Hollywood movies, they all are watching Nollywood, so that is a huge deal.”
Which makes the documentary a perfect fit for Sundance, he said.
“Nollywood is independent filmmaking personified to the max,” Mallal said.