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Archive for the ‘New York African Film Festival’ Category

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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As part of their new initiative to make public art in a global context, Creative Time commissioned the Scandinavian artist Jakob Boeskov to make a film within the Nollywood community. The result was Dr. Cruel and the Icelandic Liberation Front, an eight-minute short that premiered in May 2010 at the New York African Film Festival of New York.

The film, which Boeskov wrote and co-directed with the Nigerian director Teco Benson, recalled traditional Nollywood productions with its grainy film quality, elementary special effects, and supernatural plot twist. The storyline revolves around a Scandinavian terrorist (played by Boeskov), who arrives in Africa to “start a revolution.” He kidnaps a white oil executive (played by Boeskov’s brother) and demands as ransom the participation of the entire Nigerian police force in anti-violence training.  When negotiations are thwarted, the terrorist resorts to an absurd escape plot, effectively abandoning the spirit of his original goals. The film closes with a somber voice-over: “Our man didn’t change Africa, but Africa changed him.”

While the artistic intent and underlying political message of the film are too complicated to address summarily, it is easy to identify the overall significance of the project. Dr. Cruel is the latest in a recent wave of collaborations between the international arts community and Nollywood (which includes the 2009 Pieter Hugo photography exhibition and the 2004 AFFNY Tunde Kelani film retrospective). This film was funded by Creative Time and the Danish Arts Agency, and the screening was organized in collaboration with AFFNY and NollywoodNYC.

The global recognition of the Nigerian video film industry means that the medium is finally getting its deserved respect. Boeskov openly states his admiration for Nollywood’s DIY culture, contrasting the accessible  nature of its democratic film-making with the arduous three-year-long funding process for his first project.  As Boeskov commented to the audience during the premiere, “Cinema is the only universal language that we have.”

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