Mike Ekunno who was a Senior Speechwriter to the immediate past Minister of Information and Communications, takes a panoramic view of the celluloid scene and tries to anticipate its future direction. Read the transcript below:
Nollywood is at the threshold of a paradigm shift which may have started in 2010. Just as 1992 is credited with the birth of Nollywood with ‘Living In Bondage', a modest cache of offerings on the big screen (The Figurine, Inale, Ije 'The Journey', and Anchor Baby) may have started the rebirth of Nollywood. But as to the nature of this change, it is still morning yet on creation day.
Time will tell whether the change is an ecdysis of the snake merely shedding its skin or a mutation that goes down to the genes. If it is the former, there may be nothing to cheer except the fact of the different platform - cinema - that the movies are coming out on. But if it is the latter, there will be lots to cheer, because it means we will be seeing changes in the very characteristics that define (and malign) Nollywood. What are these characteristics?
Budget and gestation period are top on the list of Nollywood's defining parameters. Nollywood movies are low budget movies. With two million naira, a producer can cobble together a flick. Also, the gestation period from pre-production to marketing can be of the order of few weeks. Somehow, the questions of budget and gestation period are inter-connected, like an engine head and its trailer.
Low budget means that the script cannot be properly researched or a good scriptwriter hired. Many a time, some hare-brained storyteller is engaged and gifted character actors are invited to listen to the story and ad-lib their parts. Casting, set making, props and the shooting proper, all suffer from this paucity of funding.
In contrast, ‘Inale', one of the new films whose release signposts the new era, reportedly cost $2.8 million (N300m) to produce. By Hollywood standards, this figure is chicken change but in Nollywood, it is a king's ransom. The difference is visible in the quality of the film, to confirm our Nigerian saying that "better soup, na money kill am."
As for duration, ‘Ije' took 18 months for shooting alone, with locations in Jos and the US. This contrasts with the fortnight average duration of a shoot for Nollywood movies.
Another parameter to be used in evaluating how much of Nollywood is to be found in the new cinema is in the craft. I use craft here as an omnibus word that encompasses directing, acting, the storyline, and its treatment. As far as acting goes, Nollywood's best can hold the candle to the best in the world. What is lacking is the directorial capacity to lift their game.
In many star roles of the quartet under review, it is the self-same Nollywood actors that put up stellar performances. Whether one is talking about ‘The Figurine' (Ramsey Noah, Kunle Afolayan, Omoni Oboli, etc) or ‘Ije' (Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde), the story is the same. One can, therefore, posit that the problem with Nollywood is not in the actors but the acting (excuse the pun). This is true, especially of the A-list actors.
As for the storylines, those of our normative quartet are no different from the regular Nollywood fare. Nollywood has countless stories of mysterious jinxes to rival ‘The Figurine'. It has done too many epics to make ‘Inale' special just on that score. What is missing from the Nollywood equivalents is treatment that is suspenseful and filmic. Kunle Afolayan's ‘The Figurine' allows you to conjecture what is happening with the serial prosperity followed by serial tragedies as happened in the film.
Up until the end, the attribution of the mystery to the figurine remains debatable. The scientific minded would say they are mere coincidences. If the film is watched in the downtown cinema of our growing up days which had more rowdy audiences, you could picture the hot arguments that will erupt between teenage friends on their way out as the lights come on. That is the purpose of art: engendering debate.
Also the false ending or twist in the tale of ‘Anchor Baby' is totally unpredictable from the beginning, unlike in Nollywood where any eight-year-old aficionado will tell you what is to happen by merely seeing Patience Ozokwor, Kanayo Kanayo, or Jim Iyke's character.
Being too loquacious, as if one were using an audio medium, has been the bane of Nollywood. In the quartet under review, one could see glimpses of how it should be done without the need to preach too much.
In directing, our quartet is many notches above Nollywood standard. This is notwithstanding the limited experience of Lonzo Nzekwe (‘Anchor Baby'). Only in ‘Inale' could one see a bit of the corruptive influence of Nollywood in the perfunctorily executed wrestling scenes.
Also, the dialogues and romantic scene featuring Odeh (Hakeem Kae Kazim) and Inale (Caroline Chikezie) before the wrestling seem to kill the suspense and make the outcome of the contest predictable - more like working towards the answer. The director, Jeta Amata, cannot be excused his playful treatment of the wrestling scenes on account of the film being a musical. His approach seems to be that of merely dramatising the story being told by Cameron Prozman's character to his granddaughter. This is faulty.
In ‘Titanic', which uses the same technique of flashback, the film takes a life of its own and sucks the audience so much into the "now" as to forget it is only a flashback. Notwithstanding this minor flaw, ‘Inale' still blazes a quality trail in its genre with the fragrance of Bongos Ikwue's songwriting prowess redolent throughout it.
With the exception of ‘The Figurine', the other members of the quartet all benefited from cross border collaborations in set design, location, cast, crew and post-production. If they are that good, it stands to reason that collaboration is the way to go. There has to be a trans-Atlantic handshake for Nollywood to up its game. Nollywood collabos have been too fixated on merely showing that an Oyinbo face or London street was captured. The budgets obviously could not carry quality actors in the collaborating countries.
As for the Ghanaian actors in Nollywood, they cannot uplift any standards because they don't have any higher or better film culture to draw from. Those of them that have broken into Nollywood's A-list have no choice but to conform to Nollywood. Inale's casting of Hakeem Kae Kazim and Caroline Chikezie in lead roles was a well-executed move that surely rubbed off on the musical's overall rating. Though Nigerians by birth, both had made their marks in advanced film cultures and were known faces internationally. ‘Anchor Baby' also had Terri Oliver. Nollywood's casting directors must in future cast their nets wide enough to incorporate off-shore, top-rated actors to enhance the universal acceptance of their stories and movies.
In this, maybe they could borrow a leaf from national football where being foreign-based has its benefits; but film has no laws against the nationality of the players you can use.
However, off-shore collaboration in acting roles should not be confused with feeding our inferiority complex. It is not necessarily because our A-list actors are not good enough. Neither is it about having a white face or American accent. Film is a worldwide medium and these off-shore actors bring cross-cultural credibility to the story.
But apart from shopping off-shore, there is a slew of talents waiting to be challenged in the nascent Nigerian theatre and Nigerian non-Nollywood constituencies, including Kannywood, the Northern movie market. Nollywood and the Nigerian stage have had only limited symbiosis. Nothing prevents the new cinema from going a-fishing in the stage pond. Dede Mabiaku gave a good account of himself in ‘Inale'.
Before the ink on this piece could dry, two other big screen flicks with Nigerian, nay Nollywood, inputs hit the cinemas. ‘Between Kings And Queens' was made by ex-Nollywood practitioner, Joy Dickson, and stars Jim Iyke while ‘Champion of our Time' comes with a full cast of Nollywood stars including Joke Silva, Segun Arinze, Ejike Asiegbu, etc. Given our zest for following trends, one should expect a hurricane in Nigerian cinema films in 2011. It remains to be seen whether Nollywood is merely re-inventing itself or a totally different movement is being born.
Tighten your seat belts everybody!
Mike Ekunno is a staff of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB).
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