AMBITIOUS: Obi Emelonye
WHILE NIGERIANS and others in Africa have long been aware of the influence of the Nigerian film industry, often referred to as Nollywood, it’s a fact that mainstream film moguls are only just waking up to.
It is a multi-million dollar phenomenon, producing more than 200 movies a month, and has been described as “the only film industry in the world that’s completely controlled by black people.”
Nollywood films are not only hugely popular in Africa but in many parts of the Caribbean, and with black communities in the UK, Europe and the United States. Now the producers of a new Nollywood movie are hoping to make inroads into the mainstream film market.
Nigerian film director Obi Emelonye, who scored a hit in the UK and Africa last year with his award-winning film The Mirror Boy is hoping to repeat that success with the release of his latest production, Last Flight To Abuja.
Its budget of $500,000 makes it one of the most expensive Nigerian films ever made. And amongst its star cast is Hotel Rwanda actor Hakeem Kae-Kazima.
Communications chief for the production Ngozi Ideh said: “The film is the first disaster Nollywood movie and has pushed the boundaries of Nigerian film-making to the highest level yet attainable.”
But despite the major investment in the film, Emelonye said he refuses to let his artistic vision be compromised by the demands of appealing to Western audiences.
“I won’t change my philosophy to go mainstream,” he told The Voice. “If five percent of black people in the UK go out and see the film it will be number one. We don’t have to remake what we do to become mainstream.
“I know there is a little bit of doubt about how would we compare in terms of quality of production values and storyline to Hollywood. But that argument is being won right now. Film-makers like myself are trying to use the conventions, the visual narrative style and the technology of the West in a very unique African way, to tell our own stories.”
Last Flight to Abuja is a thriller loosely based on real events that happened in Nigeria in 2006, when the country’s civil aviation authority was rocked by a series of incidents that left hundreds dead.
The film will be premiered at the Empire in Leicester Square in March, followed by a UK-wide release. Its big budget and prestigious London launch marks a change from typical Nollywood movies, which are often shot on minuscule budgets.
A typical film will be shot in approximately 10 days and can cost as little as £8,500. A hit may sell several hundred thousand dvds. Discs sell for two dollars each, making them affordable for most Nigerians and creating very profitable returns for the producers.
Critics say the lack of money shows in bad acting, poor production quality and under developed dramatisation, and it is this that will make their crossing over to international audiences difficult.
Film critics in Europe and the US have hailed Emelonye’s work as the future of African cinema.
“There’s a lot of pressure for this film to do well because of the success of The Mirror Boy,” said Emelonye, “but that is a good thing. The investment in it and what we are aiming for is a bold statement of intent.”