Nollywood, develop your stuff
Professor Jonathan Haynes, the notable American scholar who edited The Nigerian Video Film a book on the Nigerian home video was in Nigeria recently as a guest of the organisers of the Tanure Ojaide International Conference held in the University town of Abraka, Delta State. He has since returned to the United States. But before he did, Haynes, a lecturer at the Long Island University who is reputed to have done some extensive study on the Nigerian home video, bared his mind on a number of issues within the Nigerian home movie culture. He concluded however that for Nollywood It's time energies are devoted at attaining high ends. Excerpts.
Nigerian films after Haynes' publication
Well certainly there have been thousand and thousand of films made. Unbelievable number of movies that have been made since the last time I conducted a study here. So in essence the phenomenon has changed qualitatively just because it has changed quantitatively and the difference here is that there are so many people who work for time in the industry now. We are seeing a level of professionalism rise and the equipment available has also improved. So that's getting better too. But some of the structural problems are still there namely problems of marketing films. They don't meet standards or interest or sense of commercial viability for the marketers. So that restricts the kind of film that can be made. And there is a glut in the market. I mean every one knows that there are too many films and that means that you can't recover a large investment in a film and so the budget, even while other things are getting better the budget are falling and one still feels that in a lot of ways, above all, like in lack of rehearsal time, lack of time for script development, lack of time in the editing suite. Stuffs like that. But in terms of marketing, I think the Film Makers Cooperative of Nigeria (FCON) and the others that have established markets here and there have absolutely the right idea about what needs to be done. I don't see another solution myself. I think that is the solution. The problem I think is simply implementation and I hope they get on with that project that is aimed at adding distribution. And really I think it is simply a matter of the will to succeed here. And that means that everyone involved has to be disciplined to make this thing work. People have to really put their ego aside and their immediate short-term profit and really help to build the right structures, otherwise I think things would remain stuck where they are and being stuck is not good. It's dangerous.
Nollywood as an industry
I don't think it is absolutely right to suggest that what we have here is not an industry. When I started to think about this, I was interested in seeing this kind of filmmaking as a form of popular culture, grassroot culture, and we were talking about artisanal production as opposed to industrial production. Because it was on such a small scale and it was the way so many of the product that Nigerians use in their daily lives are bought and sold out there in the street. All of that is still going on. By now when you are producing a thousand of these things a year it's got all the hallmark of an industry. I mean this is mass production and not everyone in the industry works that way but plenty of people do. I mean when you look at somebody like Lancelot Imaseun or Chico Ejiro producing over a hundred works. There are so many people who have directed over a hundred films. There are people who have done three to five hundred soundtracks. This is an industry. Its mass production and so I really don't see any reason to deny the word.
The route to the world stage for Nollywood
Well there is a sense in which you are already there. As I have been noticing and saying and even writing, the growth in international dimension of the Nigerian video film phenomenon is really striking. It's expanded far beyond Nigerians' own border. It's not how it would get there; and getting there is still a long road. I mentioned some day's back in article published in The Guardian that there is a co-production that the actor Zack Orji is involved in presently with some Hollywood people. I wish them all the best and I am intensely curious about how that project comes out, what means they find to distribute it and where they go from there. But like someone pointed out at the ITPAN forum, if you take all the budget of all the Nollywood films a year its about equal to one medium sized Hollywood picture. So the level and quality is still dramatically different. I think the industry here needs to be restructured so that it permits greater investment of money time and talent. If you are talking about artistic quality, and I think that is the blocking factor here, as much as technical quality. I mean the technical quality, yes, would keep the Nigerian films from going into mass distribution in the American theatrical market, certainly. Let's not kid ourselves. But for Nigerian films to maintain such a presence they must begin to attend international film festivals and forums of that magnitude. They must also continue to grow and build their market outside as well as inside and increasingly attract people who are better educated and more discerning, because the quality have to improve. You can't just stay where you are. There is a threat on the horizon as well and that's the South Africans. This people are organised. I have had some interesting conversation with people about the South African media that you watch so much of on television and someone was asking me whether this was a threat to a video film makers and my answer was I don't immediately think so because the films I have seen from South Africa are mostly really not that African in their imagination. I mean the appeal for them is that they are so sleek and they show us very glamorous life style. You can do that in the South African environment and there are blacks that are now living like that. So that way it becomes a plausible and imaginative landscape and dreamscape for the Nigerian audience. But filmmaking there as I sense is still really controlled by white people and by an imagination, which is still kind of condescending and not really in touch with the imagination of the African continent in general. Which is why I think on Tanzania television or on street corners in Kinshasa it is still going to be Nigerian films that ordinary people are going to prefer. But let us not be complacent about this. The South Africans might figure it out and then you are in trouble. Again I think the Nigerian industry really has to keep pushing forward.
Souring Nigerian movies abroad
Well I just went to Alaba International market and we were at the FCON market in Surulere so I have an enormous bag full to watch. This would keep me busy for sometime. They can also be sourced now on the Internet and they are so available in African shops abroad. I mean you can find them in shops where hairs are braided and where yams or cassava are sold. So the problem here is always piracy. I try to spend my money in such a way that the people who made the movie can profit from it. When you are abroad it's very hard to do that. There have been attempts at constructing some method for co-operative in North America where there would be some transparent process where Nigerian filmmakers could market their films through one structure. Again this hasn't really taken off and we are still buying them however we can.
A take on the practitioners
Tunde Kelani is still the best. If you are a programmer for a film festival anywhere in the world your first idea about how to introduce Nigerian films to your audiences is to get Tunde Kelani. I have seen his latest work, Campus Queen. I have seen the others in Yoruba and those films have so much depth and cultural richness and the array of talents that he has assembled. So many marvellous actors. And one thing I admire about his films is the literary quality that they have. He thinks about literature. He gets people to write scripts for him and in the scripts you feel a lot of depth in Yoruba culture. A lot of the other video films spring from a cultural level, which is somehow, thin. I like those films too but certainly when I think of what to show my American friends who have never seen a Nigerian or an African film before I like to show them something that is more deeply rooted
His two weeks here
It's really been a marvellous two weeks I have spent here. I came here with a lot of specific objective I wanted to fulfil and some of them have gotten fulfilled but a lot of them have not. But I learnt a long time ago that you don't parachute in here and complete what you have to do and leave again. You come and you are part of this life and other people have other purposes for me and I respect their judgement more than my own. But it feels like just planting my feet on the ground again and I come away with a tremendous amount of energy. I think it was 1991 when I first came here which is getting to be a long time ago; especially before the Internet and cell phones. It was really hard to keep up with people. Your letters would not arrive and so on so forth. So I felt that part of my life, a lot of it has kind of fallen away. But I keep meeting people from all those old places. I met so many of my former students and colleagues at Abraka. When I walked out of the hotel someone stopped me and said he was my student in Ibadan. So it's been like that.
One thing I have learnt about history is that my feeling about what should happen has very little effect on the cause of things. As I said in that article in The Guardian I think it is a little bit silly but I would be surprised if the Nollywood stuff goes away. As for me, I am willing to live with it. My major problem with it is that it covers up the film production in languages other than English. I was interested to learn that films in Igbo have pretty much ceased and pretty much at the moment when shooting films in Enugu took off, which is strange. But again history is full of paradoxes like that. But the Hausa film industry in Kano is an enormous thing. I think generally the video film has become the main expression of Nigeria culture at this moment and I think for now, only music rivals it and it is a little bit worrisome for the future of the nation. I am not the CIA so I am not predicting that things are going to fall apart but when you see the nation expressing itself in this dimension, it makes me thoughtful. As for the future of Nollywood, I would just say keep going. For 10 years, I have had people approach me and they would want to know what Americans think about Nigerian films and how Nigerian films can get into American market and so on. And frankly I was pessimistic about the chances of entering into that market and to some extent I have been corrected by history. But I have always said first and last develop your own stuff. Don't worry about what other people are thinking. I came to the study and interest in Nigerian video from studying the rest of African filmmaking, from the Francophone countries. This has become a familiar contrast because there they take money from the French government or the European Union or somebody to make films that are only shown at film festivals. And it is a strong contrast. And I preferred the Nigerian thing. It felt healthier and more interesting but at this point I am changing my tune. I think it's time now that the Nigerian filmmakers know who they are and who their audiences are. And I really think that now they should be pursuing international contacts and exposing themselves at film festivals....see what goes on there...look for money or for training and things like that from abroad. It is really time for a high end, time for a sector of the production here which is really dedicated to the highest quality attainable in terms of artistic and technical quality. That needs to happen. Resources have to be concentrated there. And I think part of that is looking around. Looking abroad. Look to your foreign audience. The one that is developing and see what you can grab from them.
Tanure Ojaide Conference
Well Professor Onookome Okome had organised the academic side of the conference very strongly and so there was a tremendous turn out of people. One night we tried to count how many universities were represented at the conference and it was 20 or thereabout. There were many Nigerian universities as well as people coming as far as from Maiduguri, Botswana, Canada, the USA and Cameroon. So it certainly demonstrated a very high level of interest in the works of the poet Tanure Ojaide. And as a festival celebrating him it felt marvellous. Too often people don't get their dues here and it's great to see justice done and I was really happy with that. And again G.G. Darah was also one of the primary sponsors and animators of the conference and he saw to it that they were a lot of cultural displays. And Delta State University did an excellent job of hosting us. It was obvious from the Vice Chancellor down to the students that they were very excited about the conference and they gave it their full support. We were in a big hall but it was crowded for all of both days. Even when on the second day at a certain point there were three concurrent sessions going on, still the hall was full because the students didn't lose interest. They stayed to the end.