RECENTLY, some film practitioners deemed it wise to roll out the drums in celebration of Nigeria’s popular film culture, Nollywood. As usual, in their most expensive garbs, they gathered at an upscale hotel in the millionaire part of the city of Lagos, Victoria Island, to pat each other on the backs for a job well done, in the last 20 years. Some Nigerians and even politicians, expectedly, were part of the merry making. While it is typical of humans to celebrate with each other at times like that, the question here is, is it really time for celebration in Nollywood? Film culture in Nigeria dates back to over 50 years ago, but the phenomenon called Nollywood which today has become Nigeria’s popular film/video culture, is believed to have started about 20 years ago with the making of Living in Bondage. This assertion is a subject of many debates however, but then the present players on the movie turf are celebrating based on it. So, yes, Nollywood is 20 years old.

But then, is it time for celebration in Nollywood? The argument by many gives vent to the fact that 20 years of churning out home videos that has gained world attention and even gave Nigeria a ‘record’ of the second (or is it the third) fastest growing film producing country in the world, is worth celebrating. Also, that from some low budget videos shot with equally low quality cameras to medium budget films shot with ‘state of the art’ cameras that are now making film festival rounds around the world…and cinemas in Nigeria, is worth celebrating. True, at least CNN and BBC radio had done interviews with some of our directors and active practitioners in Nollywood, that is a sign of progress and some form of ‘world recognition’. I was present in a hall in Toronto, Canada some years ago during the Toronto International Film Festival, when a documentary on Nollywood was being screened to an excited audience of both foreigners and Africans in the Diaspora. Although, I would not rate the documentary high, but the pulse of the audience members that night showed they were intrigued by our unique style of film making.

But on the home front, what is there to celebrate in an industry that is so rancorous one would think it is a typical Nigerian political party setting? The time being dedicated to fighting each other over some politician’s handout no doubt has affected creativity over time. Only very few practitioners remain true to the art and they belong to the ‘new school’. The so called ‘old school’ that claim to have ‘founded’ Nollywood are busy tearing at each other’s jugular either over guild and association’s politics or some monies given by a politician to the industry or in some ridiculous situations, a promised gift to the industry!

Most Nollywood practitioners are now full blown politicians. They are often seen in crowds waiting for politicians at government house. They are willing ‘known faces’ at campaign podiums to boost candidates’ personality profile. It has degenerated; they now attend funeral services of the rich and mighty for fees! Who is still making films then? Just a few, most of who now churn out low quality films often with repetitive themes shot on medium quality cameras. I always have a good laugh anytime I watch the Nollywood channel on satellite TV. There is a certain director who resides in the Eastern part of the country who may have become the modern day Teco Benson and or Chico Ejiro. This young man stars in most of his movies too. But that is not the issue, every of his movies look alike, they seem to have the same set of characters and it is not complete without an ‘Igwe’ (King) who is facing one shadow plot or the other by his chief or the most common ones are the King’s sons jostling to be King after the demise of their father. They always have similar sounding titles such as King’s Daughter, My Throne, Kingdom War, Royal Battle (not real titles please as they may be titles of existing movies).

This is one of the problems created by the absence of more creative practitioners who spend quality time fighting each other. The insatiable want of movie lovers must be satisfied, it does not matter what is used in filling their hunger and thirst for Nigerian movies. So many channels on satellite TV dedicated to airing Nigerian movies must be filled, even if it means filling them with movies that have similar themes as well as almost the same set of cast.

Twenty years of Nollywood, the industry cannot boast of one very good stunt man, yet we pretend to act ‘action’ movies even with guns that sound like badly ignited firework. A car backfiring has more sound effect than a shot fired in a Nollywood film. No wonder the industry and its players are always butts of jokes by comedians who most times regale us with tales of how someone in a car was supposedly shot plenty times; he dies but not even the window glass of the car was shattered in the resulting gun fire! To some extent, that is true, I was watching a Yoruba movie on Monday night and the main character attempted shoving a stick of cigarette through the mouth of the gun another character was holding. It could not penetrate, why? There was no hole in the first place as a close shot revealed the wooden nature of the said gun! Pray, the D.O.P who was aware that the said gun was just a wooden prop decided to, in his wisdom, zoom in on it?

An argument came up some time ago that government does not owe the nation’s film sector any special favour just as it does not owe other sectors. I agree, then it should scrap the Ministry of Sports or better still allow it run the way Nollywood is being managed by parastatals set up to oversee the film sector. Film does to a country what football is doing. It puts a country in a positive limelight before the world. I won’t attempt to bore you with data of what films have done to many country’s image, but the power of film as a public relations tool cannot be overemphasized.

Yet for 20 years, government has been paying lip service to Nollywood. It only remembers the industry and makes ridiculous promises it will never fulfill, during election year. There is a certain $200 million ‘endowment’ fund promise that remained what it was – a mere promise. Yet, that was what was used to lure Nollywood stars to stand on the campaign podium to ‘endorse’ a certain candidate, of course, with their ‘appearance fee’ which was the only thing planned for them anyway.

In my days as a newsroom journalist, I recall getting excited each time a public official spoke about the Film Fund. That was front page news for me, but till date, that dream of over 20 years, remains a dream. What about MOPPICON? Motion Pictures Practitioners’ Council. It even got to a stage that the Nigeria Film Corporation (NFC), had a committee (Nigerians are always quick to set up committees anyway) put in place for MOPPICON. The composition of MOPPICON and who would become what and what were already being mapped out and then, deafening silence, till date, for over 12 years now.

Yet, some politicians were part of the red carpet event to celebrate Nollywood at 20 recently. What were they celebrating? Their glaring failures to support an industry?

Nollywood has failed to attract banking loans. There was a tale of some producers who got loans from a commercial bank some years ago, the whole thing ended in a bitter feud. Having burnt their fingers, banks are reluctant to do business with Nollywood practioners. Oh, I forgot, they said the Bank of Industry or so is giving out ‘loans’ to producers. I am chuckling.

In the face of all these, we still celebrated Nollywood at 20. Well, a celebration is a celebration. I was part of it, we loved the glamour, the momentary shine and then, we are back to the doldrums.

All the same, congratulations Nollywood, you have truly come of age, at 20.

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