Though foremost filmmakers such as Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde were frustrated in their effort to make Nigerian movies in the 60s, due to the high cost of film production then, the release of the movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by Kenneth Nnebue's NEK Video is believed to have set the stage for Nollywood as it is known today.
The success story of Living In Bondage set the pace for others filmmakers and through the business instincts and ethnic links of the Igbos and their dominance of distribution in major cities across Nigeria, home videos began to reach people across the country. Before long, Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that almost pushed foreign media off the shelves; an industry now marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world.
In 2009, UNESCO rated Nollywood the second biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood (India) and ahead of Hollywood (United State) in terms of output and called for greater support for the industry, which is the second-largest employer in the country. But despite all these achievements recorded in the past years, the Nigerian movie industry is currently facing serious challenges; the practitioners are fully aware of that fact.
For instance, in a recent interview, filmmaker Chico Ejiro observed that industry is faced with the problem of poor organizational and marketing strategy.
"There is no financial support whatsoever from the government. In developed countries, there are entertainment funds, which enable movie producers apply for funds for movie projects. The case is not so here because the success of Nollywood is hinged on individuals who just invest their money and creative ideas into the business to make things work without any support from the government."
Away from fund, movie producer Francis Onwochei is of the opinion that the industry is actually facing some of the biggest challenges in recent times.
"I honestly can't itemise the myriad of problems facing the growth of the film industry in Nigeria. But I must tell you, even the marketers whom producers initially used to blame, following the encouraged irregularities that characterized the film industry, have also started complaining about the bad situation. Today, people no longer buy films. Nigerians have become so sophisticated that they now know what they want to watch on screen."
For producer/actor Fred, "one thing that is definitely not a challenge is ideas; the challenge lies in translating those ideas to tangible, concrete products that you can appreciate. Now in the process of translating these ideas you are going to come in contact with bottlenecks. How do I gather good sounds when there is noise and generator sound everywhere? How do I get good equipment and how to use them? Nollywood's constraints are actually a reflection of Nigeria's problems."
Filmmaker Fidelis Duker, in a recent chat noted that, "Nollywood was built on a wrong footing and that's why we are facing several problems today. People in the industry were initially carried away with the little success we achieved. Before now, some producers tried to outsmart others by paying the artistes expensively; that was the beginning of our major problem. Right now, the solution is for Nollywood producers to sit down and discuss how to revive this industry."
In all, it has been established that the film industry is at the crossroads and if nothing is done, the country stands the risk of loosing grip of it's rating as the best in the continent. Already, Ghana is beginning to attract the attention of the world through their productions, with some of their actors taking major roles in Nollywood movies.
In a bid to ensure that the next generation of Nigerian filmmakers doesn't get into the crossroads in which the film industry presently finds itself, organisers of the annual BOBTV, five years ago, introduced the University Challenge as part of the programmes for the African Film and TV Programmes Expo. The objective of the initiative is to activate the pool of creative talent resident in the university communities in Nigeria for the content and broadcast industries, and to channel these resources into the mainstream of Nigeria and African content industries.
This year's edition of the event held recently at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, brought together students of Mass Communications, Theatre Arts, History and Creative Arts from over 14 Nigerian universities, who were given the task of creating 24 minutes audiovisual products in competition with each other.
For three days, these young talents suspended their academic activities to gather under one roof, in search of the knowledge that would aid their career. It was also a platform for the students to share idea, through their works, which were screened at the sessions, thereby rekindling the competitive spirit among the student, which will lead to professionalism. For the participants, it was a rare opportunity, which a lot of them are already exploring.
Though the University of Ilorin's entries got the Raymond Dokpesi's One Million worth of production, according to the jury, the truth is that all the participants left Abuja that week better informed and ready to take their career to the next level.
In a chat with the Director of Studies, Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, Chris Ihidero, who is part of the initiative, the inclusion of the University Challenge in the BOBTV programme was informed by the reality that our tertiary institutions were ill-equipped to teach filmmaking, which accounts to the many problems facing the industry.
"We all know that we need to groom the next generation of filmmakers as we cannot keep celebrating Nollywood as a phenomenon without giving it proper legs to stand on. So our intervention is a child of necessity. Beyond the clamour for professionalism, we need to give room for the latent artistic expressions of these young ones to blossom. They will be in charge tomorrow and if they are not properly equipped today, with what knowledge will they shape our tomorrow?"
No doubt, the initiative is already yielding positive results based on the works presented by the students at this year's event.
"We have done the University Challenge as part of BOBTV for 5years now and the results are obvious already. Students from over 15 universities and numerous departments have taken part in the project so far. Many of them insist that their lives haven't been the same since their participation," Ihidero noted.
Having worked with the students in the initiative over the years, Ihidero is of the opinion that all hope is not lost for the industry.
"It is amazing to see what these young Nigerians are capable of doing when their minds are positively engaged. They have proved us right; we have always believed that all our young ones need are the right tools and the right encouragement and they will go places. Over the past 5yrs, we have seen genuine efforts made at personal development among the students and this makes us truly proud."
Asked if plans are on ground to ensure that these talents have the right platform to grow their creativity, Ihidero informed that, "some of them have been a part of other things we do. Two of them attended a British Council radio skills workshop at the centre a couple of week ago. Also, one of them is an intern at Amaka Igwe Studio (AIS) right now. We also invited those, who led their schools project as directors, for further training and apprenticeship at AIS."
According to Ihidero, the target is to make the event a continental challenge in the near future.
"Our long term plan is to make this a continental challenge. Just imagine this: young filmmakers from Nigeria join their counterparts from SA, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya...just imagine the possibilities! The experience will surely be life changing. We have no doubt that this will happen someday. We need partners to make this dream come true."
With the University Challenge, Ihidero believes that the future is bright for the country's film industry.
"Absolutely; it is a step in the right direction and one that needed to be taken quickly. We stumbled upon a system that has drawn global attention to us but the phenomenon will not last forever unless we structure the industry. We can already see the lull in Nollywood right now. The future is assured as long as we provide the next generation with the knowledge required and opportunity for creative outflow."