Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Here's something that you may not know...

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Ok.

A starter for 10.

If you pass go, you collect 200.

No, let’s be generous and I’ll raise you to 300.

Here are the clues.

Follow the pattern.

1, 2 and 3.

A, b and c.

Which are the biggest film/video industries in the world?

Hollywood, Bollywood and [fill in the missing item].

So, what do you reckon?

Well, as this IS an African magazine, I’ll give you a clue: it’s African!

Still not got it yet??

Nooooo, it’s not South Africa – although a lot of films are made there.

Nyet again, my friend, it’s not Egypt either – although I grant it is an African powerhouse and I can understand where that came from.

Let me put you out of your misery.

It’s…..[DRUM ROLLS, please]…..Nigeria.

Really?? Wow! Oh yes. Oh, very really.

It’s called Nollywood and – check this out – its (largely) video industry has grown rapidly over the last two decades to become the second largest (in terms of output) moving image industry in the word, second only to Bollywood.

Imagine that!

With an estimated 200 titles produced every month, the videos find mass distribution throughout Africa and its disparate communities around the world but rarely get the attention of the industry and the international festival circuit.

Well, a group of filmmakers including – but not limited to - Wale Ojo (founder of the Virgo Foundation), Kunle Afolayan (director of thriller ‘The Figurine’), Jide Olanrewaju (investment manager/director and producer of ‘Naij’ – a documentary about Nigerian political history, Omelihu (Mel) Nwanguma (director of the gritty short ‘Area Boys’ which is in development to be made into a feature film) and Obi Emelonye (director/writer of ‘Mirror Boy’) have sought to put this right.

They have coined the term ‘New Nigerian Cinema’ to denote young, energetic, ambitious filmmakers who seek to take their work onto the next level and into the homes, cinemas and festivals of the world at large. They are extremely professional, they demand to be taken seriously and are determined that their work should be viewed both at home and on a wider stage.

I caught up with Wale, Mel, Obi, the writer Oladipo Agboluaje, the actors Maynard Eziashi, Chinwe Odukwe, Bumi Thomas (of the Virgo Foundation), the casting director and actress Medina Ajikawo, the writer and actor Reginald Ofodile, the QC Oba Nsugbe, the JP Morgan financier Ade Adetayo (and many others) at the New Nigerian Cinema Day at the BFI Southbank. It was a fascinating day full of films, discussion and networking.

At the panel discussion Wale, Mel, Obi and Maynard all acknowledged their debt to the pioneers of Nollywood like the late Hubert Ogunde (whom Maynard acted with in ‘Mr Johnson’, the 1990 film directed by Bruce Beresford and also starring Pierce Brosnan). Wale explained the vision and mission of his Virgo Foundation which seeks to promote African art, culture and heritage. As part of the dissemination of this culture, the month before - on 18 September - the foundation produced the Wale Ojo-directed and lead-acted ‘Wedlock of the Gods’, the play by Zulu Sofola. The filmmakers then all generally elaborated on their experiences of filming in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Mel (who is based in London) gave the audience a wonderful anecdote about filming in Nigeria with a mainly Nigerian crew for the first time. They were initially sceptical about the talents of this ‘Johnny-just-come’ director who insisted on doing more takes than their standard ‘costs-induced’ 3 takes maximum (‘Pa-pa-pa filming’ as it’s known colloquially – translation: ‘in and out filming’). However, after they saw for themselves – by watching the rushes – the benefits of his wisdom, one of the crew remarked in pidgin English after filming wrapped, “Oga, when you go London, you dey take me wit you, O!” [Boss, when you go back to London, make sure you take me with you!]

I had a chance to meet up with Wale again in early December – this time for a one-on-one interview session. He very kindly (after finishing a hard day’s work on the set of the new Nigerian television/internet comedy ‘Meet the Adebanjos’) agreed to shoot the breeze. We met at the very buzzing bar of Soho theatre in Dean street but I managed to find a quiet spot from where I could pick his brain about his experiences.

He regaled me with tales of having being a child-actor in Ibadan – his mother was an actress – and how he’s had the chance (over the years) to work in theatre productions in countries as diverse as Nigeria, South Africa, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. We talked about his collaborations with the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in ‘King Baabu’ and ‘Death and the King’s Horsemen’ (amongst other productions). I asked him what the Nigerian government could do to help filmmakers and he replied that apart from finance – which is always helpful – they could make the bureaucracy and red-tape aspects of filming much easier. Also, he insisted that they should actually use the opportunity of filming to better promote Nigeria as a tourist attraction. He had made a movie called ‘Streets of Calabar’, in Calabar, an area in the South-East region of the country which he described as wonderfully picturesque. Yet, it begged the question: ‘why didn’t people know about this?’ It’s a good point.

He is very passionate about the Virgo Foundation and to prove its absolute importance with regards to informing and educating people about African culture, he provided me with a revealing anecdote about one time on the set of his comedy ‘Meet the Adebanjos’. A member of the crew (a young British/Nigerian lad who had been brought up entirely in the UK) was re-arranging one of the rooms and he came across a replica of the old and famous Benin Bronze Head sculptures that was used as the symbol of ‘Festac 77’ – a cultural festival in Nigeria in 1977. He shuddered and was about to remove it thinking it was some type of voodoo when Wale stopped him and explained the whole history behind it. To say that the kid was pleasantly surprised would be putting it mildly. Apparently, he beamed and was totally blown away by this one aspect of a rich history that he had never known.

So, now you know. To quote ‘Bell, Biv, DeVoe!’

Look out for Wale later this year in the Irish/Hollywood movie called ‘The Guard’ starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.