What makes Nollywood tick?
Nothing, indeed, could be more fascinating to the Nigerian film critic as to have the opportunity of discussing Nollywood. As a popular phenomenon which came in the early 1990s to replace the otherwise thriving celluloid culture in the Nigerian entertainment industry, Nollywood which made its debut with Living in Bondage has since grown tremendously to churn out thousands of movies aside providing jobs for several millions of Nigerians.
At the just concluded Nigerian segment of the Federation of the International Film Critics' workshop held at Gateway Hotels, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, the home video sub- sector came under scrutiny, even as critics drawn from Ghana, France and Nigeria agreed on several factors that could make Nollywood operators (including other African film makers) attain high standards.
Tagged, Nigerian Home Video, the session, coordinated by Muritala Sule, president of FIPRESCI Nigeria, attracted comments from virtually all critics in attendance.
Sule, on his part, recalled the buoyant and flourishing entertainment culture that preceded Nollywood, noting that artistes of the film making format such as Hubert Ogunde, Ola Balogun, Ladi Ladebo, Ade Afolayan and Moses Olaiya actually worked to project the image of the country through their works. In other words, these film makers saw film as an art, unlike the Nollywood operators who concentrate more on the entertainment/commercial aspect of the movies. Sule ,however, regretted how some international audiences see the wrong sides of Nigeria through Nollywood movies, adding nevertheless that the incursion of the home video has created interaction between the story teller and the audience.
For Shaibu Husseini of The Guardian, most Nollywood producers tap their materials from the wave of societal frivolities and tragedies.
He added that some of the producers often exploit titles or acts earlier used by their colleagues to determine their story lines or commercial viability of their movies. But Jahman Anikulapo, Editor Guardian on Sunday, differed on this assertion, stressing that whatever Nollywood operators must have done is a direct reflection of societal realities. Anikulapo cited the parallel revolution in the proliferation of movies and the rising number of Pentecostal churches, observing that movies and churches have come to serve the needs of a people hunted by their social milieu.
For Tunde Oladunjoye, executive director of Centre for Media Education and Networking, the deficiency in research and documentation may have robbed off on the film industry in terms of quality of raw materials and finished products. He cited the popularity of Hubert Ogunde's films in far away Republic of Benin as an indication that quality films would remain evergreen and marketable. However, the fact that many of Ogunde's films have lost their visual and technical qualities calls for a new format of preservation and presentation.
The duo of Rudolf Asunda and Rita Safowaa (Ghana) spoke on genres and star syndrome respectively. While Asunda blamed low quality movies on producers' failure to explore diverse genres such as documentation, children, wildlife and animation films, Safowaa observed that most African movie producers tend to overuse certain acts who are considered marketable to the audience. In this process, producers usually have actors and actresses who are considered famous in mind, before embarking on the production of their movies.
While Sola Balogun of Daily Sun traced mediocrity in Nollywood to lack of proper training (as obtained informally in the days of Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Ade Afolayan, Ola Balogun and Eddie Ugboma), Onoshe Nwabuikwu of ThisDay noted that most Nollywood movies succeed not because of good quality but because audiences can easily identify with their social realities through the contents of the movies.
Speaking on tabulation as a major element of the cinema worldwide, Olivier Barlet, facilitator of the workshop who flew in from France explained that the film/movie industry of any nation usually reflect the trend of its socio-economic and political development. He, therefore, urged film critics to take note of tabulation (elements of horror, bizarre scences,fear and witchcraft) and its roles in films, adding that it won't be out of place for the film critic to raise questions or make comments on new forms and styles of presentation adopted by the film makers.
On the whole, participants agreed that script writers actually function as psychologists, hence whatever the audience sees in the movies is a direct reflection of how the society is or evolves.
Most importantly, it was agreed by participants that film critics should always try to identify good films/movies and help educate the audience about them (irrespective of their commercial viability or otherwise). Also they should not condemn films on the basis of content, technical input or plot structure, rather, they should highlight issues which could make the film relevant or appealing to the audience, and at the same time, raise questions on the areas they consider grey or ambiguous.