Inside Nigeria's Growing Film Industry The Nigerian film industry known as "Nollywood" is hugely popular, but virtually unknown outside of Africa. The documentary, Welcome to Nollywood, goes behind the scenes of the bourgeoning Nigerian movie industry. NPR's Tony Cox talks with the film's director and a Nigerian filmmaker.

Inside Nigeria's Growing Film Industry

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TONY COX, host: This is News and Notes. I'm Tony Cox. Here is another listener favorite. Indian film makers created Bollywood, but have you heard about Nollywood? We're talking about the Nigerian film industry, which is largely unknown outside of Africa. Over the past 10 years, Nollywood has grown into a $250 million-a-year enterprise that employs thousands of people.

Now the documentary "Welcome to Nollywood" gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Nigerian film makers and their impact on African culture. I spoke with the documentary's director, Jamie Meltzer, and Nigerian film director Izu Ojukwu about the popularity of film making in Nigeria.

Mr. IZU OJUKWU (Nigerian Film Director): Nigerians call them home videos. So that way we will get away with a lot of things easily.

COX: (Laughing) Instead of saying movies they say home videos?

Mr. OJUKWU: Yeah. They call them home videos back home. Yeah.

COX: Now home videos in the States means something entirely different, I suppose. Well how big is the home movie - home video business in Nigeria?

Mr. OJUKWU: It's very big. I think it's next to the oil in Nigeria. It's very big. It has taken thousands of youths off the streets in different aspects.

COX: Which kind of movie, which genre of home video is the one that is the most popular?

Mr. OJUKWU: Comedy.

COX: Comedy?

Mr. OJUKWU: Yeah.

COX: Is that right?

Mr. OJUKWU: Yeah.

COX: That's really interesting. Jamie, welcome.

Mr. JAMIE MELTZER (Director, "Welcome to Nollywood"): Thank you.

COX: You did a documentary about Nollywood, as it's called. What we are talking about, did it come as a surprise to you to discover what's occurring?

Mr. MELTZER: It did, it really did. I first heard about Nollywood when I was finishing up a previous documentary, a documentary that had taken me about four or five years to complete, which is not unusual. At that time, I read about Nollywood in the paper, where they're finishing films, you know, in a couple of weeks and then putting them out to the market and having immediate successes with their films. So basically for me, the film was about seeing the model that the Nigerian independent film makers had set up as an inspiration for all independent film makers, including myself.

COX: What is it about that model? Is it A, the speed with which these films are being produced, the distribution system that they have, the low overhead that perhaps they may have? What is it that you feel is worth modeling yourself after, or others here in the States?

Mr. MELTZER: Well, it's a little bit more abstract than that for me. For me, it's about an example. In other words, an example of film makers kind of making the best situation out of what they have, and that's certainly what they've done in Nigeria. In Lagos, where most of my documentary was shot, and where Izu works all the time as a director, power is hardly on, you know, for most of the day. So how do you shoot a film when you don't have lights, when you don't have power? You know, you make do. You figure out a way around it. How do you make a film when there's no financing from banks or from, you know, or the government? You know, you find entrepreneurs, you know, to invest, and you do it with small amount of money.

So it's just the way in which they've figured out, according to their own circumstances and context, how to make a film industry work. It's just sort of an example to inspire everyone to try to do the same within their own context, in other words.

COX: Izu, in the documentary, we saw just what Jamie was talking about. Power going out, money coming up short, disgruntled actors, all of that. And then having a place to distribute your work. Quantity is one thing, quality is another. As frankly as you can, talk about the quality of these films, these home videos that are being made in Nigeria. Are they any good?

(Soundbite of preview of Nigerian movie)

Unidentified Announcer: From Nigerian action master Izu Ojukwu, a tale of conspiracy at the upper echelons of power.

(Soundbite of machine gun fire)

(Soundbite of scream)

Unidentified Announcer: Who will tell the president?

Mr. OJUKWU: Well, the majority of film makers in Nigeria are basically doing these things to survive. And you know the dark age of the military regime in my country sort of set things back. The film makers couldn't afford to move forward, so an alternative solution was created, you know, to get your camera out, shoot something in it, we have to survive. But now it's changing gradually. People are beginning - professionals, you know, trained film makers are coming in, they're coming back to the business again and they're trying to revive the industry.

COX: How do you handle the distribution, and how are people able to actually see the work that you produce?

Mr. OJUKWU: Well, in Nigeria, at least we have a very good distribution network in Nigeria for local consumers. So the - generally, the marketers have outlets scattered all over the country. So once a movie's released, they get their distributor and he gets to the, you know, consumers.

COX: Jamie, what's the purpose of the documentary that you did about Nigerian film making besides to expose it to the rest of the world that may not know what's taking place there?

Mr. MELTZER: I think for me, the film is also about showing a different side of Africa at large. Because I think in the U.S., as consumers of media, we don't really get a fair picture of what's going on in Africa, of the complexity of African countries and people. And so I thought this kind of a film that focuses on a very positive part of African life, and something that Nigerian directors and film makers and producers, you know, creating this industry on their own, you know, have created something without any outside support or anything like that. That kind of story, again, that inspirational kind of story, for me felt very different than any other stories I'd seen being represented in our media about Africa. And to me, that was kind of an important point that I wanted to get across.

COX: Izu, just a couple of more things. How difficult is it to do some of the more complicated kinds of crash scenes and explosions and things, fires, and all that stuff that you see in action films? In the documentary, they showed how, you know, you guys put the blood in the water when they had the war scene and stuff. How hard is it to get those things that Hollywood is now generating via computer?

Mr. OJUKWU: It is difficult, you know. This is like in the movie I shot while Jamie was in Nigeria, it took me seven months to get the attention of the Nigerian army. The first time they were giving that kind of support to an independent film maker - to any film maker at all. So I saved and then, you know, was constantly visiting the army headquarters until the army chief of staff, you know, approved this process. And I had bomb engineers, you know, on set. So I mean it's the first time anything like that is happening in Nigeria. So it indicates that the future is bright for the Nigerian movie industry.

COX: Jamie, you want to add anything to that? What you've seen in comparing films made in Nollywood versus those you've seen made in Hollywood?

Mr. MELTZER: You know, there's all kinds of films being made in Nigeria - political thrillers and action movies - and so it's a really interesting industry to me in terms of, you know, continually defining itself and redefining itself. It's also very responsive to the news cycle. I mean, think about it. In the U.S., we can't be as responsive to our news cycle because it takes several years to make a film. But in Nigeria, if you can make a film in a month or six weeks and get it out, you can be really responsive to what's happening in the news media. So there was a lot of talk about those kinds of films, whether to reflect political reality or some sort of social reality.

COX: Jamie, Izu, thank you both.

Mr. OJUKWU: Thank you.

COX: Fascinating.

Mr. MELTZER: Thanks.

COX: Good luck.

Mr. OJUKWU: Thank you.

Mr. MELTZER: Thank you.

COX: That was Jamie Meltzer, director of the documentary "Welcome to Nollywood," along with Nigerian film director Izu Ojukwu.

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