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Archive for the ‘Digital Film-making’ Category

About a month ago, the folks at Nollywood Workshops announced, in conjunction with the Lagos State government (LSG) and Innovate Lagos, a very promising project for the formalization and ongoing advancement of Nollywood film production. The aptly named Nollywood Upgrade Project is poised, now, to make a real impact on the state of financing, distribution, and production in Nollywood. All the right parties are involved including LSG, Nollywood Workshops, the Coalition of Nollywood Guilds and Associations (CONGA), a number of Hollywood filmmakers, as well as some of Nollywood’s finest talent like Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan.

In recent years, Nollywood has seen a handful of projects aimed at formalizing key aspects of the industry (financing, distribution, technique), but with mixed success.

Nollywood UP stands apart for its focus on the core of the industry, its veteran filmmakers, those who hold the skills needed to make significant adjustments to the way films are created in Nigeria. This is a promising opportunity for any interested filmmakers, and I strongly encourage industry stakeholders to get involved.

I am pasting the call for applications below:

Apply now!

Lagos State Government/Nollywood UP Training December 3 – 7, 2012.

http://www.nollywoodup.com

The Lagos State Government – through the INNOVATE LAGOS project and Nollywood Workshops – are pleased to announce the launch of the first phase of the Nollywood Upgrade Project (Nollywood UP). The Nollywood UP Training will be held in Lagos for 100 Nollywood professionals from December 3rd – 7th, 2012. Applications close November 20th, 2012.

The training is free for all attendees. The Nollywood UP Training Application is now live at http://www.nollywoodup.com

Nollywood UP will invite selected applicants to participate in workshops including Cinematography, Screenwriting, Post-Production, Directing, Sound, Acting and The Business of Film and Distribution, taught by leading global film professionals. Filmmakers will be selected to participate through a competitive and transparent application process that considers their experience, skills and willingness to train others in the industry. The Nollywood UP Training will serve to strengthen the industry and support Nigerian filmmakers to withstand the impact of piracy.

The Nollywood UP Training has been designed in partnership with Coalition of Nollywood Guilds and Associations (CONGA) to address current gaps in the Nollywood’s capacity. Heads of Guilds and industry stakeholders had a major input in the design of the training curriculum to ensure maximum relevance for the industry.

The Training will consist of Master Classes that cover key elements of directing, camera, lighting, sound, producing and the creative process, along with new strategies in financing and distribution, helping filmmakers harness the power of digital video to achieve high quality results. “Cutting edge training satisfies both the need to raise production quality and to capitalize on new distribution opportunities, while increasing professionalism and growth throughout the industry. Our training will also present an opportunity for Nigerian filmmakers to collaborate with peers from Hollywood and other film industries”, said Bond Emeruwa, Chairman of CONGA.

The training is organized by Nollywood Workshops, a global NGO that empowers independent filmmaking through training and production. The Nollywood UP Training team includes seasoned Hollywood and Nollywood filmmakers and film educators, including Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayon, Cinematographer Ed Gutentag (credits include War of the Worlds, Austin Powers, Forrest Gump), Actor Ekpenyong “Kepy” Bassey-Inyang, Screenwriter Lee Zlotoff (MacGyver), and Producer Robert Caputo (National Geographic) among others. Stay tuned to www.nollywoodup.com for ongoing news about Nollywood UP Training staff and highlights. 

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In another sign of Lagos State’s continued support of Nollywood, the L.S. government announces the Nollywood Upgrade Project, “an initiative to support sustainable growth in the Nigerian Film Industry through training, capacity building and innovation in film financing and distribution.” The initiative also seeks solutions piracy, though this release is short on details as to what solutions Nollywood UP proposes. There are several other promising partners for the project, including Innovate Lagos and Nollywood Workshops. Some might remember Nollywood Workshops from the feature-length documentary This Is Nollywood shot in collaboration with Nollywood filmmaker Bond Emeruwa.

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I would like to thank culture journalist Derin Ajao for her very comprehensive profile of my work in the Daily Times last week, the publication of which marked more than 18 months since I first set foot in Nollywood. As I begin a new job next week, it seems to be the right time to retire this blog.  I hope that FindingNollywood.com continues to serve as a resource and a discussion platform for Nigerian cinema enthusiasts in the years to come.


A Nollywood adventure
Fulbright Scholar and film researcher Bic Leu talks to Aderinsola Ajao about finding and loving Nollywood.

ARTICLE | MARCH 2, 2012 – 6:21AM | BY ADERINSOLA AJAO

Stumbling on a Nigerian movie in Ghana set Bic Leu on an exploration to Nollywood. For the young American studying abroad, the films she saw back in 2005 would leave a lasting impression on her even after her graduation from Tufts University, where she studied Art History, Business and African Studies. The economic recession and a stint at the New York-based Museum of Modern Art would seal the inevitable return to Africa; this time to Nigeria, to find out more about the booming film industry.

“From what I knew of Nollywood, it was started by Nigerian entrepreneurs without any government support or any kind of international aid, or any type of formal sector intervention. I thought that was fascinating and I was just wondering at that moment – about 2008, 2009 – why it wasn’t getting the international recognition that it deserved. I really (wanted) to explore that more as an alternative mode of development and to move away from that traditional aid model and towards more sustainable market initiative,” Leu said.

Applying for and receiving a Fulbright grant was, for her, “the perfect way” to realise that dream. Leu hailed her mentors at Tufts as being “very knowledgeable” about Nigerian film and providing her with helpful information prior to her departure. With everything else in place, Leu contacted Duro Oni, Theatre Arts Professor and Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Lagos, who agreed to sponsor her.

TOUCHDOWN

In September 2010, Bic Leu arrived in Nigeria and Mission: Nollywood was well on its way.  “It was so much more than I expected,” enthused Leu, whose Nollywood adventure is recorded on the weblog ‘FindingNollywood.com’. “When I landed in Lagos, I didn’t know anybody. I was here because of that curiosity, that passion to discover how the film industry works. ‘I don’t actually have any plans in place! What am I going to do?!’” she thought.

It however proved a smooth ride for the inquisitive scholar as she was easily accepted on film sets. “The practitioners are so open to outsiders coming in and learning about it. The level of hospitality that I’ve been shown has been really overwhelming. I can’t go to Hollywood and knock on Stephen Spielberg’s door and say “Hi, I’m Bic, I’m a scholar and I would like to follow your set for a couple of weeks. I probably won’t even get that far; I’d probably meet with the assistant to an assistant to an assistant…” joked Leu.

Within two weeks of her arrival, Leu was in touch with Nollywood scholar and professor, Onookome Okome, who was doing a sabbatical at the Pan African University in Lagos. Okome linked her up with ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, who was then shooting Maami. “That was a great start,” said Leu, of her first location visit. “Once you got on TK’s set… everybody’s so connected and open, so willing to introduce you to their colleagues.” From Kelani’s set, she moved to Funke Akindele’s Jenifa set, to Emem Isong’s and Desmond Elliot’s for Kiss and Tell and to Daniel Ademinokan’s for the DaGrin biopic, Ghetto Dreamz, getting the chance to observe, interview and record as the months passed by. “That was such a great introduction to the film industry,” Leu reminisced. Her exploits on these sets were not limited to research though. Her presence incurred a few acting roles: a spot in the Jenifa trailer, her hair makes an appearance somewhere in Ghetto Dreamz and, “I believe my wakapass in Maami is on the cutting room floor somewhere,” Leu said.

IMPROVING NOLLYWOOD

Work on these sets was also very professional and punctuality was not to be messed with, she said. Leu initially thought it was “complicated” for Elliot and Isong to be shooting two films simultaneously. That impression soon changed. “In reality it was like this machine; some days we pumped out like 40 scenes a day, which is insane. And it worked!” This time it sounded like a confident boast.

For Leu, the productions she tracked were far better than her first Nollywood encounter in Ghana back in 2005. “This is much better. When I came on TK’s set, he was very excited about mounting a RED camera, which allowed him to shoot digital images that were indistinguishable from celluloid pictures and of course at a much cheaper cost and much more accessible in post-production.” It was an epiphany. “That was when I realised that this is really not the Nollywood of the low-budget production: the guerrilla filmmaking that I’d been reading of. This is really the start of this revolution to increase capacity in the industry and look at different re-distribution methods.”

With the conversation tilting towards distribution, the issue of piracy reared its head. “In terms of distribution, I think the way a lot of filmmakers have been able to tackle that is through cinema-only release,” Leu replied, referencing the newfound love for premieres and cinema screenings. “As soon as they release their films straight to DVD then the pirates will illegally duplicate them.”

More cinemas will lead to better quality films; a standard that will help the industry’s international image and also boost employment, Leu argued. In her words, Akindele’s intention to upgrade production quality influenced the hiring of DJ Tee as director on the third Jenifa installment. “She really wanted to improve her production value, show at cinemas and probably at film festivals. The downside to this is that there really aren’t that many cinemas in Nigeria. I think maybe nine or ten, and for a population of a hundred and fifty million people; that doesn’t cover the demand that’s out there and also the cost of access.

ALL GOOD IN NOLLYWOOD

Despite the many challenges on film locations, I couldn’t resist asking if Leu and her research questions didn’t end up an unnecessary nuisance for the cast and crew.

“I would just wait in between takes,” she said. “Basically I tried really hard not to be a distraction.” Working out what times would best be suited for questions also helped. “100% of the time they were super happy to enlighten me about what was going on in between takes,” Leu said gleefully.

A number of things stand out for her, especially the on-set professionalism and quality of output in Nollywood in spite of the same challenges referred to earlier. “What stood out to me was that in spite of the challenges of filming in Nigeria, the cast and crew just really bound together to make it work. My few challenges were pretty standard throughout all of the productions,” she said, listing disruptions from area boys, extra-long scenes, generators and corrupt district officials as challenges unique to Nigeria’s film sector. “For them to exist here and for us to be one of the most productive film industries in the world, that’s absolutely fascinating to me. (The practitioners) not only surpass them but also produce such work that captures the imagination in Nigeria and anywhere else.”

For a much-disparaged industry, Leu’s praise for Nollywood is hugely encouraging. She defends the industry even in relation to other African films, especially at festivals like FESPACO.

“The more I saw of FESPACO; obviously the African films that were shown were very different from the Nollywood films that were shown. In terms of production quality, their history is very different than in the Nollywood films. They showed like maybe three Nigerian films (at FESPACO); Kunle Afolayan’s film (The Figurine) was the only one I watched and didn’t fall asleep,” Leu said with a short laugh.

“I feel like (the films’ improved quality) really speaks to the level of audience engagement that Nollywood has been able to cultivate. Everybody has this mindset that they’ve really come up with a few movies that people actually want to watch.” According to Leu, the storylines were also “solid”, making special mention of Kelani’s collaboration with Nigerian playwrights Akinwumi Isola and Femi Osofisan.

And the relevance of these stories to the audience?

“I would say that the Nollywood films that I’ve seen have really portrayed society’s reaction to certain socio-political conditions that have happened. It certainly shows that our filmmakers and our creative professionals are definitely aware of the nuances and what’s going on in politics and the socio-political environment and are able to translate that very articulately on film.”

WORK IN PROGRESS

Are these nuances apparent in the productions, I ask, especially with the overuse of words rather than non-verbal hints in the plot. “I believe it’s something that they’re working on. The film industry has its roots in the Yoruba tradition, which is a lot of talk, so I don’t think it’s bad as long as it’s portrayed in a way that’s also visually engaging, that moves the story along. I believe that the roots of why the Nollywood films are talky have a very valid and cultural reason,” she argued.

During her stay in Lagos, Leu coordinated Nollywood-themed seminars both within and outside the academia. She commented on the probable disconnect between Nollywood as theory and Nollywood as practice. “I don’t see the link as particularly strong just because we don’t have any formal film studies programme at the universities here. A lot of these professors who are speaking about Nollywood are coming from either the English departments or the Theatre Arts department, so I feel like maybe the film practitioners feel it’s not speaking directly to them. Not to take anything away from the point that we’re making, the industry hasn’t been established long enough for there to be a very established culture of film criticism. As you know, many newspaper articles about Nollywood, it’s not really like an in-depth article, it’s mostly gossip.”

We both agree here and I ask if the academy is not trying too hard to intellectualise the popular. For Leu, such international exposure can only be helpful to sustaining Nollywood’s growth. “There’s a whole field of scholarship talking about popular arts. So, for me to take modern Nigerian cinema and to have it taken seriously on the international stage, you do need people to intellectualise it. You need to do more academic papers published in reputable international journals to speak intelligently about what’s going on in these industries. You need these papers to be cited in doctoral theses that are written all over the world. And you need this scholarship to come from Nigeria.”

Such scholarship need not be overly critical, though. “Constructive criticism is really important to any industry. It’s just that that discourse needs to be encouraged. The more that literary discourse is encouraged and is publicised, the more the industry will be respected internationally.”

THE END?

Leu’s research year ended in July 2011 and she was swiftly snapped up as Head of International Relations and Project Management at Del-York International, a media and communications company with a focus on capacity building for economic development and international branding of Nollywood. She described this experience as “really exceptional” for Nollywood scholars, who usually have no chance to test their research findings. The Del-York experience was specifically helpful to Leu, whose interest was in how Nollywood directly or indirectly provides employment across different professions. “I was going to take that to Del-York and truly implement this job creation model.” As part of the outfit’s training curriculum for aspiring media practitioners, Leu also introduced a weekly roundtable called ‘Filmmaking in Nigeria’, inviting Nigerian practitioners to discuss the history of Nollywood, distribution and piracy, entrepreneurship, on-set challenges and the like.

By the end of her research period, Bic Leu had come full circle from the stuttering newcomer to a fulfilled researcher with positive impact on the lives of aspiring filmmakers. “It’s great to be a part of that and not to just look on as a scholar,” she said with pride.

In November 2011, Leu co-curated the first Nollywood film Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Aimed at bringing Nollywood deeper into an international audience’s consciousness and titled ‘Bemvindo a Nollywood’, the festival featured discussion panels around the Nigerian Video Film sector. Nine Tunde Kelani films were screened during the event. “For me, it’s interesting seeing how Nollywood films are seen abroad and to form this partnership, this really shared cultural exchange, it’s awesome!” she gushed.

Bic Leu is currently in South-East Asia preparing for a new job back in the United States. There is little doubt though that her love for Nollywood will someday bring her back to Nigeria.

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It looks like veteran director Tunde Kelani has joined the latest wave of Nollywood practitioners to organize filmmaking-training programs in Nigeria – the most recent one of which was spearheaded last month by Linus Idahosa and Stephanie Okereke of Del-York International in partnership with the New York Film Academy*. Kelani recently teamed up with Irish filmmaker Cashell Horgan to form Advanced Film Television Training Africa (AFTTA) to “ensure high quality training opportunities are made available to professionals working in Africa”.

The inaugural master classes aimed at practicing professionals will be held from 24th-26th October 2011 and 28th-30th October 2011 at Parklane Hotels, Ajao Estate, Lagos. Kelani will teach a “Script to Screen” class for “producing high quality low budget films in Nigeria for cinematic release.” Meanwhile, award-winning Irish cinematographer Jack Conroy (My Left Foot) will teach “Advanced Cinematography” to “create stunning and memorable images that are used to enhance any story.”

For more information and to sign up online, please go to: www.aftta.net.

*Full disclosure: The author was the Project Manager for the Del-York International / New York Film Academy Training Program, which trained over 250 Nigerian students in media production from 15th August – 10th September 2011 at Apata Memorial School in Lagos.

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Is there a way to make money in Nollywood? This CNBC Africa Entrepreneurial Edge segment attempts to answer this question, but I was distracted by the slew of misinformation; the most glaring of which is the claim that “not a single Nollywood movie has been recognized internationally“. This statement is refuted by the global acclaim of such films as Kunle Afolayan‘s The Figurine (screened at FESPACO and festivals in London, New York, Tokyo and Rotterdam) and Mak Kusare‘s Champions of Our Time (winner of the Special Jury Prize for Best Television/Video Award at FESPACO).

Most of the segment depicts Nollywood as “the Other“, fetishizing the so-called guerrilla filmmaking techniques of Kingsley Okereke as it follows his low-budget production powered by “one camera and just one boom microphone“.

It is all tired material until the viewer encounters Jason Njoku, CEO of Iroko Partners and creator of the NollywoodLove YouTube channel. His answer to the problem of piracy and distribution is the internet. Njoku has purchased more than 400 audio/video on-demand licenses to stream Nollywood films online for free. His revenue stream comes from an advertising deal with YouTube, thus making content accessible to viewers while putting money back into the hands of the filmmakers. At last count, NollywoodLove has 24,525 subscribers, 1,303,678 channel views and 32,530,182 upload views.

Full disclosure: The author contributed to the “tired material”. Watch around the 1:05 mark.

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Director Andrew Donsunmu (in red) with the crew of 'Restless CIty' at the NYC premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

After missing the Restless City screening at FESPACO in March, I was pleased to be invited by New York African Film Festival director, Mahen Bonetti, to view the film at its New York premiere on May 29.

First-time director Andrew Dosunmu premiered the film at Sundance this year.  The movie follows Djibril, a young Senegalese immigrant, as he navigates the urban jungles of New York City. Per Dosunmu during the Q&A session, he wanted to portray the nuances of “universal displacement” in Djibril’s self-exile.

A film still from 'Restless City'. © Jenny Baptiste, 2011

As a New Yorker, I found the film exquisite. Director of Photography Bradford Young captured images of Manhattan in ways that I had never seen during the 18-day shoot. There is a scene in which the M1 bus (my former preferred commute) repeatedly threatens to overtake Djibril on his moped – an apt visual metaphor for the City’s voracious appetite to swallow you whole.

As a Lagosian, I was bored. After spending the past nine months watching Nollywood films, Restless City’s sparse dialogue and silent close-ups didn’t resonate with the “aesthetics of outrage” that media anthropologist Brian Larkin (2008) coined to describe the melodramatic plot lines and overwrought acting that characterize Nigerian cinema.  While there was plenty of drama in Restless City’s storyline, I thought its visual language was too “nuanced” to capture a popular African audience.

Dosunmu mentioned that after taking the film on the international festival circuit, he planned to release the film in Nigerian cinemas. I couldn’t help wondering how Restless City would be received by Lagosian movie-goers next to the current Silverbird offerings like Aramotu and The Hangover, Part II.

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I just found out that my article was published in The Guardian today without the original first paragraph or the last three paragraphs, making this a very different piece than I had intended. I have pasted the original article below in its full glory, or you can read the published version here.

 

Keith Shiri, Tunde Kelani, and Kunle Afolayan at FESPACO 2011. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

 

FESPACO 2011: African cinema through Nollywood’s lens

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00 By Bic Leu

From February 26 to March 5, 195 films were shown at the 22nd edition of the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou, or FESPACO), scattered across cinema halls and outdoor theaters in Burkina Faso’s capital city.

The event’s official newsletter declared an “opening under the sign of Panafricanism with a growing diversity of film productions from Africa and the Diaspora.” Yet despite this claim of unity, the Festival raised many debates regarding the definition of cinema and revealed divisions among countries with different colonial histories and the impact of those histories on the development of respective film industries. For example, official regulations excluded films not shot in 35 mm format from the main competition. Films shot in digital format were relegated to the TV & Video category, which included Nollywood’s only representatives – Mak Kusare’s Champions of our time (2010) and Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine (2009). Ultimately, the lack of 35 mm projectors in most viewing centers rendered this rule moot, so films were screened in DVD format for Festival-goers.

The only movie by a Nigerian filmmaker to compete in the Feature Film category, Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless city (2010), was not shown to audiences. Several sources reported that the filmmaker was unexpectedly unable to attend and screen his film due to organizational mishap on the part of Festival managers. While this slight was unintentional, the incident did not help to ameliorate the rift between Nigerian filmmakers and their Francophone hosts. Nigeria’s already poor representation at FESPACO is disproportionate to the number of films that the country releases per year. (The National Film and Video Censors Board recorded 1,612 local movies submitted for classification in 2010).

Indeed, “African cinema” has been historically synonymous with Francophone African films, according to film curator and Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) jury member Keith Shiri. The primary source of funding for these movies is the French government, which allots an average budget of €500,000 to €2 million per film to its former colonies, thus allowing filmmakers to purchase and process pricey celluloid stock abroad at the cost of $400 to $500 per minute of film. These products are then distributed globally at film festivals and are seldom watched by their native audiences. Recent international attention has been directed at the robust volume of independently financed and lower budget productions from Nigeria and other Anglophone African countries.  These films are shot on much cheaper digital formats and are enthusiastically consumed by Africans, thus challenging the traditional concept of “African cinema”.

Director Tunde Kelani confronted FESPACO’s definition of film at the African Film, Video, and the Social Impact of New Technologies workshop organized during the Festival by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) on February 27 and 28. While he is listed as a “video-maker” in the workshop program, Kelani has worked with a variety of audiovisual media over his 30-year career: super 8; super 16; 8 mm; 16 mm; 35 mm; all video formats; and now digital format. He emphasized the false contradictions between cinema and video, stating that new technology allows digital cameras to use film lenses and for some digital formats to have higher resolutions than 35 mm film. Kelani forecasted that celluloid production will disappear in the near future due to cheaper digital alternatives to shooting high-resolution film, such as the RED ONE camera.

Kelani is not alone.  Chairman of the AMAA Selection Committee Shaibu Husseini privately conceded the need for FESPACO to adapt to technological changes: “They need to modify the rules to accommodate recent developments in technology. There shouldn’t be rules on making films in celluloid.”

Yet at the CODESRIA workshop, Burkinabe director Idrissa Ouedraogo countered Kelani and Husseini’s position by maintaining that a hierarchy exists between celluloid and video because “the beauty of the image is in the celluloid” and that video is unable to capture a wide range of contrast. He continued by asserting that movies made in Nigeria are more commerce than art, referring to Nollywood’s rapid production schedule as “business, not cinema”.

Director Kunle Afolayan tried to find common ground among these viewpoints at a Centre Culturel Français Ouagadougou screening of The Figurine on March 1. He emphasized his film’s self-sufficient financing and production structure as an advantage: “The film is self-funded and made entirely by Nigerians.” But he also stressed that collaboration between Anglophone and Francophone filmmakers is the key to take African cinema to the next level: “The camera knows no language…The sky is the limit if we come together as Africans.”

Afolayan’s appeal for intracontinental cooperation may be coming true: three films nominated for the Nigerian-produced AMAA also competed at FESPACO: A small town called Descent (South Africa, 2010), Zebu and the photo fish (Kenya, 2010), and Dina (Mozambique, 2010). In addition, FESPACO awarded Champions of our time the second prize in the TV & Video category, fueling expectations that more Nigerian directors will be recognized in future editions.

In the end, FESPACO 2011 was defined by a missed opportunity to unite filmmakers across the continent regardless of production format, budget, or colonial histories. Shiri observes an excitement surrounding the “new wave of directors from Nigeria who understand the importance of aesthetics, sound, pacing, and the strength of the story.”  As Nigerian and other Anglophone cinema cultures gain global prominence, FESPACO’s continued alienation of them over politics of production will be detrimental to the Festival’s standing as the preeminent place on the continent to view and discuss African cinema.

Bic Leu is a US Fulbright Fellow researching the social impact of Nollywood at the University of Lagos. She regularly records her observations at www.findingnollywood.com. The views and opinions expressed here are her own and do not reflect those of the Fulbright program or the US Department of State.

 

 

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