What Amaka Igwe Told the President About Nollywood Problems

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When world renowned African film maker Sembene Ousmane, told a group of American scholars who asked him about Nollywood that “Nigerians had found a way to reach the African audience and that is great accomplishment”, it was considered a ground shaking, epoch making compliment. Considering that African Film makers had hitherto dismissed Nollywood as a Mickey Mouse industry, Sembene’s statement that Nollywood had found the way for the liberation of our people’s cultural, material, economic and creative sensibilities through storytelling was a victory for Nollywood. Africa through Nollywood has finally found a way of telling our own stories our own way. This is the Nollywood we celebrate today.

Nollywood’s arrival in 1992 with Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage signified a change on the Nigerian filmmaking scene. With video technology, Nollywood brought African filmmaking from the sidelines of global filmmaking into the centre. Finally, an audience that had long yearned for a movie culture they could call their own, found a place they could call home. Withno formal structure, no government aid, no backing from financial institutions, no grants from donor agencies, and solely dependent on informal marketers who were largely importers of electronic appliances, what is today a global phenomenon took off. In merely 20 years, Nollywood has done more for this country than any other art form; it has placed our dear nation on a pedestal that has spiked interest the world over. No other African country can boast of any indigenous artistic expression that equals Nollywood. Its stars are the cynosure of all eyes at international events; they are worthy brand ambassadors for some of the biggest brands in the world; Nollywood has provided employment for and radically changed the lives of thousands of Nigerians; it is the subject of seminars, conferences, workshops and many other creative and intellectual engagements.  The Federal government’s NEEDS document recognised Nollywood as far back as 2005. The recent SURE-P document did the same.  As I’m sure we all know, Mr. President instituted a $200m fund for the entertainment industry on the strength and popularity of Nollywood. Many scholars and researchers have made a name simply by researching and writing about Nollywood. Documentaries have been made by many filmmakers from across the globe, all in an attempt to understand the peculiarities on what has become the most industrious indigenous filmmaking tradition out of Africa and the black Diaspora. UNESCO even named Nollywood as the 2nd largest Film industry after Hollywood and before Bollywood

Great as all of this sounds however, it saddens me to admit that for a while now, we have spent too much time celebrating this phenomenon and lost focus on what it truly important; putting down a Superstructure for the realisation of the potentials of Nollywood as a socio-economic giant especially in our quest for the transformation of our father land. Because of its informal beginnings a lot has been left unattended on the growth path of Nollywood. We somehow assumed that things will take care of themselves as we went along. In places where we have made attempts, we have failed to follow through the processes that have led to true development in other places. After two decades of existence, we have a poorer distribution network than when we started. Where once our guilds and associations were worthy representations of our collective desires for a common front to tackle our issues, they are today a shadow of what they used to be. As nature never allows for a vacuum, piracy is at 82% because distribution is grossly inadequate. Where once our films sold copies in thousands of thousands over long periods, we can barely hold on to a two-week shelf life today and sales are dismal. Now more than anytime, we need a superstructure to cash in on the potentials of Nollywood.

Let us for a minute take a look at two different scenarios that clearly emphasize the need to build super structures now. If you visited the cinemas in Nigeria (and around the world) some 30 years ago, you will have no choice but to see a Chinese film, often with implausible storylines, funny sounds where you saw the punch land before you heard the sound. Due to government policies and interference, the Chinese movie industry stagnated at a point. In the time in-between, the Chinese saw how America used Hollywood to propagate its ideologies across the world, taking local American brands to international heights, turning their actors and studios into international money making ventures. Chinese filmmaking regressed badly. Now, the Chinese have learnt their lesson. In the recent past, they have built over 13, 000 cinema multiplexes in china, they drop 3 cinema screens a day through two companies created and funded by government, the 2nd largest cinema distribution chain in America now belongs to the Chinese. They have also started making inroads into Africa and I can bet you Nollywood is their main target… perhaps we all should start learning Chinese! China’s aim is to outdo Americans in cultural, economic and ideological domination of the world using film.

The other example is of course, Bollywood. Have you seen a Bollywood film recently? Are you, like I am, amazed at the technical revolution that has taken place? We watched Indian films all those years ago and laughed at horses climbing walls and sound that doesn’t sync. Today Indian films are some of the top box office hits around the world, with over 20, 000 cinemas in India alone. They have expanded into America now, with over 200 cinemas bought to cater to Bollywood audiences. Some of the richest people in India are Bollywood filmmakers and distributors. Some Bollywood actors are so rich they own cricket clubs where they sign on players for a million dollars. When the Communist Chinese took a step back, Bollywood went forth and built superstructures.

Mr. President,

I propose a four-pronged approach:

  1. Distribution: Globally, the film entertainment market generated about US$90.6 billion in revenues in 2010 with projections for US$102.7 in 2012. A big chunk of this revenue streams are largely from theatrical distributions of movies.  These kinds of figures are only possible because of large numbers of cinemas. In the US, there are 38,950 cinema’s (117 cinemas per million of people); India has 13, 000 cinemas. Nigeria has less than 60 modern cinema screens, that’s about 0.36 screens per million population. I believe that we need to quickly make more screens available if we want to really reap the benefits of cinema distribution. A thousand cinemas in the next 2 years would be a good start. It is possible. Mr. President, with your good relationship with Alhaji Dangote, Chief Ibeto, Julius Berger, Samsung , Sony, the various funds ranging from SURE-P, to IFC in a PPP arrangement, it can happen. Mr. President, what s Arik airline without the various Airports that government built? What is soccer without the various stadia built by Government?

Nollywood started by making films in video cassettes, then moved on to CDs and now DVDs. It is clear that there are millions of Nigerians and millions more outside Nigeria who are willing to buy Nollywood films. We have identified over 50 thousand outlets where Nigerian films are either sold, rented or viewed illegally without recourse to the intellectual property owner. I will suggest that just as was done for the telcos at the onset of GSM when Business centers where all shut down and reregistered with well defined rules of engagement, the same should be done for the Film industry. When we know where the films are sold and rented, when can control what is being sold and rented thereby cutting down  piracy by more than half. There is an existing law that supports registration but the political will has been absent. Ghana has done this thereby making their 16 million people buy more films than 168 million Nigerians. I am talking of course about non pirated DVD.

The internet will be very important in the near future for further distribution. We can already see the inroads made by the likes of IrokoTV. I believe that this is the time to start looking at legislation and rules of engagement for online distribution.

  1. I would suggest Mr. President that Government involvement with the industry prior to now has been in the area of regulation. While regulation is necessary, I must say that our regulators over the past 8 years have managed to regulate us to death. What I think is required is growth and development and a deemphasising of regulation and censorship. Or the travelling of the world film festivals in the name of Film development.  May I suggest at best a Department of film and creative arts domiciled in a ministry that recognises the film industry as big business not just an information function. (Trade and Investments o Finance) The Department would be charged with developing the Business aspect of film, the position of the Industry in its proper place as no 2 in the world, capacity building etc.  One of the priorities of the New Departments would be a restructuring Nigeria’s accounting systems to recognize and properly evaluate a filmmaker’s worth along the lines of the filmmakers’ intellectual property. Where funds have been available for infrastructural development, Nollywood practitioners have been unable to access such funds because funders have not been able to truly evaluate their true worth. This needs to change quickly for filmmakers to be able to access funding and participate in the development of the industry beyond their primary responsibility of making films.
  2. Capacity Building Initiatives: Many attempts have been made by government agencies, foreign agencies and others to bring training to Nollywood practitioners. This attempts are worthy of appreciation and should be lauded. However, there’s a key point that is missing in these capacity building initiatives. It seems to me that many of the people and agencies behind these capacity building initiatives suggest that Nollywood has to become something new altogether for it to get better. There seems to be a disdain for the core essence of Nollywood. This, for me, is the wrong way to go about capacity building. The right way, in my opinion and has been seen in other film cultures, is to reinforce the things that made Nollywood great in the first instance and then improve on whatever the shortcomings are without losing the essence.

A Nollywood audience research conducted by the Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, the training arm of Amaka Igwe Studios, in 2012 correctly revealed that when Nollywood audiences desire that Nollywood should become better, they do not desire that it becomes Hollywood, European filmmaking or Bollywood; they desire that Nollywood practitioners go back to telling stories like the early Nollywood movies and take advantage of improved access to digital technology. We need to stop being apologetic for what we are.

  1. Guilds and Associations: There is a need to totally restructure the guilds and associations that exist within and around Nollywood. As one who has partaken in the founding of many of these guilds and association, it is easy to see how far they are away from what their core business should be: the welfare, interests and development of members. The argument that we are not united should not make the government force the industry into one group such as MOPICON. I’m totally against the proposed MOPICON’s attempt at legislating entrance into a creative enterprise like Nollywood, an abnormality everywhere else in the world. The argument of Nigerian Bar association and Lawyers and Nigerian Medical Association do not apply as unlike the afore mentioned groups, the film industry traditionally have 55 different professions working in it not just one group. If government wants to deal with groupings, it should prescribe minimum standards s for recognition by government and deal with only groups that have developed systems for the welfare, professional development and retraining of its group

My faith in the greatness of Nollywood’s future is unshakeable. So is my faith in you Mr. President. I have followed your involvements with the Film Industry with keen interest. From your days as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state when you attended BOBTV in 2005, your hands on approach and support of AMAA when you where Governor of Bayelsa State and your relationship with industry since you became President. You have provided funding, wined dined and celebrated the industry. Mr. President. I have also watched the single mindedness you have approached the transformation agenda especially in the areas of Aviation, Agriculture and Power. May we ask Mr. President to step up the Film Industry and put it on the front burner of the economic sectors that need transformation. So that when we celebrate again, perhaps in five or ten or twenty years time, your name would be written in Gold as the one who created the super structure that transformed the Film and Creative industry into a worldwide money spinner and great employer of labour.

Mr. President, we pledge that we as an industry would use our knowledge and skill to propagate what is good and perfect in our country, its culture, economy, philosophy, potentials, and possibilities if the aforementioned issues are tackled with the same enthusiasm as what is happening in the rest of the polity.

The challenges before us may be numerous and the tasks daunting. but that go-getter Nigerian spirit that led to the birth of our beloved Nollywood in the first place lives on in everyone of us and that’s why I’m hopeful of a bigger, better and brighter future.

Thank You!amaka i

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