Femi Odugbemi on Nollywood – The way forward

Femi Odugbemi – is a Nigerian documentary filmmaker, Screenwriter, cinematographer and also a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in ‘The Academy’ – Photo by FO

The biggest challenge facing Nollywood today is wrapped in one word: change! Nollywood as an interesting curiosity in the wider world of cinema is no longer enough. The film festival circuit has exhausted its focus on it. The researchers and reporters have documented its emergence and structure and architecture voluminously.

The key players have enjoyed the tourism and travel of being invited to different parts of the world to be paraded and examined as any other of nature’s curiosities. More than 20years later, (if you count that “Living in Bondage” was produced in 1992) perhaps NOW is a good time to consider an honest list of interventions we need to urgently transform Nollywood for the future.

There are four urgent interventions that should form our most important pursuits. Firstly, We need to improve the ‘film language’. Nollywood films are reminiscent of old Hollywood B movies. The stories are culturally relevant, easily accessible, shot as low-budget cinema verite pieces. The story is the film. There is almost an unspoken pact with the audience for the viewer to make allowances for its shortcomings in lighting, production design, sound and acting. It is a model that has worked to build an audience in the environment that Nollywood emerged. It is now a model that has outlived its purpose and must give way to a Nollywood future where the filmmaker understands and speaks the language of film. The dialects can be learnt: compelling scripts, exciting lighting and cinematography, good sound mix, interesting art direction, arresting performances by talented and trained actors.

This is not to say that narratives, which challenge and experiment with and against classical forms in ways that engage only niche audiences, should not be produced.  The caveat in this case is that the challenge and experiment must be so bold and original that these stories break out and find audiences beyond their niche market.

However, such boldness and originality can only be achieved when the filmmaker understands and has mastered the classical forms .

To the outside world, Nollywood is a novelty that intrigues. We need to seriously broaden the critical and artistic appeal of our films and go from a mere curiosity to offering products that compete in major festivals and can be acquired for international distribution. Funding for films that win enough business to create the kind of model sustainability we all yearn for, does not come easy. It is more than just about the content of the film, it is also about the context and craftsmanship of the product. Craftsmanship is 80% of what sells films distributed by major studios across the world.

We must keep storytelling ability and add on technical craftsmanship that will open up new audiences for Nollywood.

Secondly, to achieve the above we have to better emphasize and encourage professional training. 

At the moment a lot of our training institutions are basically teaching very little in terms of the curriculum that can change the status quo. We must focus more on training with emphasis not on equipment technology as much as on the artistic use of technology. It is not necessarily about spending more money as being more efficient with money spent. Sad to say that after more than 20 years of Nollywood no major Nigerian University has a solid film school with a curriculum that is comparable to anything available internationally. The spate of half-baked training programs all over the backyards of Nollywood personalities wont take us far and certainly wont change status quo.

We need institutional interventions in curriculum that is well researched and standardized so that emerging filmmakers are skilled in the creative thought-processes that has scholarship as its foundation.

The biggest ‘change’ needed in the area of training to move us forward is actually in our attitude to training. Too many of us who have managed to sell more than 5,000 copies of a self-distributed DVD tend to regard any further training in the art of filmmaking as a waste of time.  We need to think bigger and to reflect big thinking in our content creation.  The missing artistic element of craftsmanship is why critical recognition eludes us yet. Critical artistic recognition is however key to investment and co-production collaborations in the film industry.

Co-Production is a key funding channel for any film industry and we need to tap into it to broaden opportunity for our filmmakers.

Thirdly, he creative industries are in the midst of a pivotal shift, driven by emerging technologies.

The extraordinary growth of social media has created amazing ways for people to connect with each other and with new ideas and concepts and to share data and content in user-friendly ways. This insatiable appetite for content is creating new opportunities for for digitally-driven content such as Nollywood creates.

Content is the foundation of the “connected experience.” The challenge for Nollywood’s future is how to leverage technology to deliver generation-next content that creates compelling consumer experiences and connects audiences across devices, networks, time zones and geography. We need to start distilling the trends that will fundamentally transform how content is created, distributed and consumed in the next 5-10years.

Finally, So what is the impact of the documentary film genre in the future evolution of Nollywood?

Well, Fiction and Fact-based films share dimensions of reality and therefore are in measures, both elements of documentary. 

Conversely, history in Africa also has dimensions of fiction since history is interpretations and interpretations are perspectives. Especially in Africa where oral traditions ensures a healthy dose of invention. I believe we are beginning to build a critical mass of viewers and filmmakers who are finding that the power to understand and define their personal journeys as Africans, as Nigerians can find expression in the documentary artform.

Aside from that, the political power of images as a cultural postmark in a globalized world is an awareness that I believe makes documentary a sub-conscious canvass for Nollywood’s dramatic explications.

As I said at the last I-Rep Documentary Festival, If we say we want to change the narrative of Africa, if we say we want Africa to be empowered economically and politically, it is critical for us to begin to manage the images of Africa. The cultural values of African communities are important contributions to the world. Our biggest weapon for documenting those values are our fiction films which by effect embed in their narrative, nuances and postmarks that impact as the documentaries of our African experiences.

Femi Odugbemi, former President of Independent Television Producers Association (ITPAN), is Executive Director of iRep International Documentary Film Festival Lagos.

Edited by Bolaji Alonge for eyesofalagosboy.com

First Published on naijatimes.ng