Wednesday, October 20, 2010

So far how well?

From The Colonial To Digital Era

By Al-Amin Ciroma (Published in Leadership October 9, 2010)

According to previous research and findings, Nigeria's first contact with cinema was in 1903. It was at the instance of Herbert Macaulay, a foremost nationalist who invited Balboa and Company, who was then doing an exhibition tour of silent films on the West African Coast to Nigeria. The films were shown at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos in August, 1903.
The success of the Balboa venture paved the way for an influx of European film exhibitors to Nigeria. Shortly, the colonial government took interest and brought in a lot of films. Distribution and exhibition was restricted to Lagos where they competed with concerts and drama shows and the content of such movies was highly censored. Gradually, however, it fanned out to towns in the immediate hinterland of Lagos and beyond. As the country became more industrialised and urbanised, there was need to establish distribution/ exhibition centres in these new areas and in no time, the branches of the distribution and exhibition companies had spread all over the country.
The colonial government however, did not fully participate in the film business until the commencement of World War II, with the establishment of the Colonial Film Unit (CFU). The unit was charged with making films for the colonies and the objectives of the films were: first, to show/convince the colonies that they and the English had a common enemy in the Germans. To this end, about a quarter of all the films made by the CFU were war-related.
With the attainment of independence, according to historians, the Colonial Film Unit (CFU) became the Federal Film Unit (FFU). But the Federal Film Unit (FFU) still retained most of the functions of the Colonial Film Unit which were the production of films about the country. Also private individuals began to produce and exhibit feature films. However, the searchlight had shifted from colonialism and the need for independence to the need to restrict neo-colonialism. Black became beautiful, a thing to be explored and enjoyed and the colonialists came to be seen as rapists of the rich culture of Nigeria and indeed Africa. Novelists like Chinua Achebe emerged and used creative writing to show the colonialists as disrupters of a noble and pure indigenous culture.
The primary function of the Federal Film Unit was the production of documentaries. These documentaries were funded by the government and sometimes international organisations like UNICEF. The foreign film distributors and exhibitors succeeded in turning attention from the documentaries to themselves. Their cinema houses were filled to the brim with eager viewers and for a long time, they made a lot of profit. Meanwhile, Nigerians became involved in the production of films and in 1970, the first indigenous feature film was produced in Nigeria: Kongi’s Harvest. It was however directed by an American and it featured many foreigners as crew members. With the oil boom, more individuals became involved in the production of indigenous films, including the late Adamu Halilu, Eddie Ugbomah, Ladi Ladebo, Ola Balogun and U.S.A Galadima of blessed memory among others who had been trained during the CFU era.
Apart from the fact that the viewing public was hooked on foreign films, they had problems in the procurement of equipment, manpower, piracy and ultimately in marketing. This killed the zeal of these new-comers to filmmaking. In 1979, the Nigerian Film Corporation was established to provide structural backbone for the development of the industry in terms of manpower training, marketing assistance and infrastructure. A decree validating its existence was released by the government and a facility was allotted to it in Jos, Plateau State but it did not help the industry much. Years later, a National Film Policy was also put in place, but neither did this save the ailing industry from it problems and by the mid 1980s, it was nearly impossible for films to be made on celluloid. Film stocks were expensive to import, and celluloid was expensive to process. Rushes had to be taken abroad for development and other processing. Coupled with that was the harsh economic scenario in the country, thus many filmmakers opted for the use of video tapes as it was more economical, easily accessible and inexpensive to edit unlike the celluloid.
The video film "grew out of the benign bootlegging of music videos in a cassette culture… cannibalising the idioms of the soap opera, from 1980s to the present digital era, thereby facilitating huge development in the labour market. Movies were produced in English and other indigenous languages. The movies that constitued Nollywood include Hausa home videos from the northern part, known as Kannywood, Yoruba home theatre, and remnants from the golden era of the Nigerian cinema.
The appearance of video in Nigeria, plus its popularity, pointed to its importance as a new medium for the production, dissemination and consumption of film as a form of popular culture, with its ideology and aesthetics. The idea of video films was inspired by Yoruba Travelling Theatre and was later introduced by Babatunde Adelusi (Adamson), publisher of a now rested photo-play magazine, who said that the production of video films would not only save the cost of production but would be a good alternative to Indian and Chinese films.
The development did not go down well with the new school of video filmmakers who termed his investments as peanuts and and organised themselves into a group, Jide Kosoko, Adebayo Salami, Gbenga Adewusi and Alade Aromire led them. This regrouping resulted in the appearance of different production companies including Bayowa Films International, Aromire Films, Jide Kosoko Productions and many others. Films began to be produced in large volumes and with film marketers and distributors setting up offices and distribution outlets in Idumota, Lagos, the industry took off.
Video film in Igbo language was silent until the latter part of 1992, when Kenneth Nnebue produced the first Igbo video film in the country, Living In Bondage, which became a major hit among the Igbo audience and was also well accepted by non-Igbo speaking audience. Other Igbo video films followed, Igbo films were produced in either Igbo or English languages.
In recent times, the argument that the Nigerian video film industry, Nollywood is the second largest movie industry in the world in terms of art and business is fast gaining ground. Although, this affirmation seems very untrue and an over-estimation, it is however a statement of fact owing to the state of cinema and filmmaking in Africa currently. The combination of high costs and a western stranglehold on funding and the unavailability of the cinematographic technology in Black Africa is making many young directors in Africa rely on cheaper, often more versatile digital methods both for production (shooting) and exhibition. In the light of this reality where digital video is a fount of hope, Nollywood is indeed the third largest movie industry in the world in terms of its comparative digital edge and also when the number of flicks turned out annually from the industry is considered. A most recent survey conducted by Spectrum Television Media indicated that about four thousand home video films are released by Nigerian filmmakers, an average of ten (10) movies per day; 2,000 of which are censored.
Film is popular culture, just so, the Nigerian home video has come into prominence as a form of entertainment both in Nigeria, on the African continent and indeed the world. Film has visual bias, which gives it universal acceptance, appeal and impact. People the world over enjoy watching cinema. Just like music, TV or radio, they have naturally come to appreciate and embrace it. Today, to Nigerians and Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora, Nollywood is as important as Hollywood or Bollywood.
Nollywood is a purveyor of culture. Film helps to preserve the culture of a people, ethnicity or race from eroding away and this is a focus of implementation of the National policy on Film in Nigeria, Article 4 (3) c, which states that "Film will be produced to protect and promote Nigeria's rich cultural heritage and our national aspirations in the process of development". Nigerian video films portray the way of life of the average Nigerian in the daily struggle for survival, show our belief systems, contemporary as well as ancient culture. People, especially those abroad want to be abreast with issues and happenings in the society as well as relax while doing so. They therefore, turn to the industry. There are major Nigerian video film marketers in the United States, the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe and Asia.
Equally, the northern film circle was anchored by some pioneer filmmakers like Adamu Halilu and USA Galadima both of blessed memory. Halilu produced his first hit film, Shaihu Umar, in 1976. The movie projected some basic Hausa/Islamic aesthetics. Now, while Nigeria is celebrating her 50th anniversary, the giant movie industry, is also celebrating its landmark as being the second largest employer of labour and ambassador of Nigeria in the international arena.

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