Listen to article

African culture is rich in folktales passed on orally from one generation to the next. Today, African life is also being shown through another medium: film. Nollywood, based in Lagos, is Nigeria's version of Hollywood. It produces most African films and earns more than 250 million dollars a year. Thanks to new digital video technology, Nigerian films are widely available in Africa, either on DVD and VCD disks or on the South Africa-based satellite TV network, M-net.

The story of the Nigerian film industry is the subject of a new film, called This Is Nollywood. Franco Sacchi the film's director says that he is fascinated by the innovative spirit of Nigerian filmmakers. Unlike most of their counterparts in Hollywood, they make movies on shoestring budgets. He says an average production takes just 10 days and costs around 10 thousand dollars. Many Hollywood films have million-dollar budgets and take months or years to produce.

New technologies, like high definition cameras and computer-based editing, make film production easier than ever. Sacchi says one of the goals of This Is Nollywood is to “show how the egalitarian promise of digital technology has found realization in one of the world's largest and poorest cities.”

He adds that digital video technology is complemented by the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerian film makers – and says their “unwavering spirit and ability to work under harsh conditions is commendable.”

Sacchi says his documentary was more that just a movie venture. He was born in Zambia and was tired of the usual stories about Africa that dominate western media.He combined his passion with filmmaker Robert Caputo and producer Aimee Corrigan worked with him on the movie.

He says that this was to him was " personal, and it's the fact that I was born in Africa and most of my family lives in Africa…. For me it was very important to find a story where I could talk about Africa as a real place…where people live and dream like us….”

Sacchi says Nollywood was born out of what he calls the epidemic of crime and insecurity of the 1980s, which he says was the result of political instability in Nigeria. He says movie theaters closed down and people were afraid to be out on the streets after dark. “A group of pioneers started shooting movies…and they found out that there was a desire and an enormous audience…. And now it has expanded to other parts of Africa" Nigerian filmmakers thought home viewers would probably be more interested in local products. “The movies are about every aspect of African culture You have love stories, horror films that involve witchcraft….”He says

Hundreds of movies are released yearly by Nigerian filmmakers, and Sacchi says they're finally giving Hollywood a run for its money. The documentary This is Nollywood shows some of the challenges facing Nigerian filmmakers. It's not easy to film in a crowded city like Lagos. Sacchi says it can be a nightmare of traffic, pollution, poor infrastructure, and unreliable electricity. Some producers must also deal with local thugs, who extort money before they will allow filming to take place.

But the filmmakers know they have struck a profitable and long-neglected market. Nigerian movie stars have become household names all over Africa, and the popularity of Nollywood films is growing among members of the African Diaspora, in both Europe and America.