Lagos is famous for a lot of things – music, art, cosmopolitan dining, the legacy of afrobeat – but it’s also the centre of Nollywood, Nigeria’s powerhouse, low budget, high output, $250m a year film industry.
Still a relatively youthful entertainment entity, the culture of DIY, straight-to-video Nollywood films first sprung up in the early 1990’s to rave reviews. Yes, the quality of filming, (at least during the first decade), was suspect – all wobbly sets, drawn out storylines, unfathomably long ‘real-time’ scenes and troublesome sound quality. Now however, what are essentially African soap operas with amusing traces of kitsch, have swept right through Nigeria to most of Africa’s Western regions, and even over to the Caribbean. In fact, the best Nollywood movies can now be found right across the globe, wherever Nolly-loving Nigerians choose to travel.
The industry is now a home viewing, cinema going, mobile streaming, commercial success, and with this multiplatform ability to watch the films – many of which come in two-to-three-hour prequels and sequels – literally anyone from Lagos to Latvia can kick back and watch an ongoing menu of Naija movies.
But what of the movies themselves? Essentially divided into Igbo films in English, or English-subtitled Yoruba films, the quality has evolved to the point at which dedicated Nollywood film channels like iROKOTV are showing new and classic titles for free. The beauty of this is the ability to tap into any genre, from horror to action and comedy, or to scan by titles, the most intriguing of which might be Double Mama, Sweet Mistake, Billionaire Inlaw or parts one and two of Peruvian Hair Wahala (wahala meaning trouble, for the uninitiated).
For all the thousands of Nollywood films out there, worth a watch is the 2003 breakthrough comedy Osuofia in London, which was one of the first to gain an international audience. However, what’s now being coined as New Nollywood contains a growing stable of films that use sharp, Hollywood-style techniques, upscale equipment and savvy co-production, often between Nigerian and US or European teams.
Best of the new (or relatively new) pack include Ijé (The Journey), about two sisters and their individual journeys from rural Nigeria to the faded glitz of Hollywood. There’s the more recent slapstick comedy, Phone Swap involving a destination mix up leading to a collision of worlds for two plane travellers, Akin and Mary. Inalé, which sets true love against tradition, plays like a Bollywood take on a Nigerian story, while the romantic drama Tango With Me features one Nollywood’s finest – Genevieve Nnaji (who also stars in Ijé alongside Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, the ‘queen of Nollywood’). Tango’s tale is of the tricky relationship hurdles between newlyweds Lola and Uzo.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of an ever-expanding stable of Nollywood films, and the best way to get into the deeply absorbing culture of Nigeria’s home grown film industry is to lock off a few hours of your day and just get watching.
Are you a fan of Nollywood films? Tell us the best Nollywood movies that like in the comments section below.
Written by Nana Ocran
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About the author: NanaNana Ocran
Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor specialising in contemporary African culture. She was Editor-in-Chief for the Time Out Group’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja and has consulted on and established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, the Arts Council England and the Institute of International Visual Arts. She was a nominee for CNN’s African Journalist of the Year (2011), and curatorial advisor for the Afrofuture programme at La Rinascente during Milan Design Week 2013. Nana is a regular features writer for Arik Airline’s in flight magazine, Wings, in which she writes about art, lifestyle, innovation and enterprise issues relating to Arik’s African, European and US destinations. She has been a jury member for Film Africa (London) and the Festival del Cinema Africano, d'Asia e America Latina (Milan).