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Aki and Pawpaw spread goodwill for Nigerian film biz

By Liza Foreman
Aki and Pawpaw
Aki and Pawpaw

DUBAI -- Two African street kids being plucked from obscurity to become the toast of the continent sounds like something from a far-fetched film plot. But that's exactly what happened to the Nigerian dwarfs known as Aki and Pawpaw, the stars of the film of the same name.

Still, such is the fame of the Nigerian film industry (dubbed Nollywood by the New York Times) that it's not only African kings and politicians who come a knocking to request the pleasure of Aki and Pawpaw's company. Now Hollywood is standing at Nollywood's door.

Nigerian author Chinmanda Ngozi Adiche's novel "Half of a Yellow Sun" has been acquired by the producers of "The Last King of Scotland," which told the story of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, as per Nollywood sources, while Focus Features has picked up rights to the Off-Broadway musical "Fela Kuti" about the African beat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who became a legendary funk musician in the U.S. before going back to Nigeria where he was frequently harassed and imprisoned. Focus is readying a film being written by Nigeria's Misan Sagay.

"Yellow Sun" covers a seminal moment in modern African history, namely Biafra's struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria, and the terrible violence that followed.

Nollywood is, of course, Nigeria's guerilla film industry, which produces not only stars of legendary proportions but about 2,000 films a year. It also is the second-largest employer in a country where, a blockbuster is likely to be a film about the wrongdoings of the government.

"Peace Mission," the film which tells the Nollywood story, is screening here at the Dubai International Film Festival where it makes it Middle East premiere as part of the Cinema of AsiaAfrica section.

"We don't need other stars, we have our own," said the film's narrator and guide, Peace Aniyam-Fiberesima who is in town with German director Dorothee Wenner to promote the film.

Aniyam-Fiberesima knows of what she speaks. A filmmaker, TV star and the founder of the African Movie Academy Awards, she said, "People asked me why I was launching the awards when there is starvation, war, AIDS revolution."

"But, thanks to Nollywood, we have stars," she said. "There was a revolution that came with digital filmmaking and you can see the results right here."Beyond homing in on its stories, Hollywood also could learn a thing or two about distribution from Nollywood, whose films have become a runaway success the straight-to-DVD model. "Nollywood has created a mass market via DVD in a place where the average salary is around $100 a month," Aniyam-Fiberesima said. "Across most of Africa people can't go to big cinemas. There are large families of 10 or more people, and tickets costs $10 a ticket."