Archive for the ‘Piracy’ Category

Five months after shooting wrapped in Abeokuta, Tunde Kelani is finally ready to unveil his latest feature film, Ma’ami – starring Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo, Tamilore Kuboye and Olumide Bakare. The invitation-only premiere will take place at Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre in Lagos on Saturday 4th June 2011 to celebrate the re-election of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN.

The event marks the latest in a string of collaborations between Mainframe Productions and Lagos State. In 2008, Kelani celebrated Governor Fashola’s inaugural year in office with the premiere of Arugba. The premiere of Saworoide in 1999 honored election of former Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while Agogo-Eewo celebrated Tinubu‘s 50th birthday in 2002.

Ma’ami is based on Femi Osofisan’s novel of the same title and follows Kelani’s tradition of bringing Nigerian literature to the big screen. Past works include Koseegbe and O le ku, written by Akinwumi Isola; Thunderbolt (Magun) adapted from Adebayo Faleti’s MAGUN : The Whore (with Thunderbolt AIDS); and The White Handkerchief and The Narrow Path adapted from Bayo Adebowale‘s The Virgin.

Due to the threat of piracy, Kelani is only releasing Ma’ami at cinemas throughout the country.  He also plans to organize free mobile cinema screenings and lectures at universities throughout the Southwest.

Watch FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.
FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.

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Go out and buy The Guardian today, everyone! My article on New Nollywood’s innovative distribution methods is published under the Friday Review section. I’ve pasted the text below, or you can read the original web version here. Many thanks to Gabe for lending his editor’s eye to this piece.
Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00 By Bic Leu 

THE domestic and international media have been buzzing about the emergence of a New Nollywood. A wave of recent features — including Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine and Chineze Anyaene’s Ijé — flout traditional Nollywood conventions such as low budgets and poor production value and eschew the Nigerian film industry’s straight-to-video format for a theatrical run. It appears that there is a new vigour among filmmakers to tackle the rampant piracy and poor distribution linkages that have plagued the industry.

Beyond piracy
Pirates have usurped Nigerian filmmakers’ profits at the end of the distribution chain for years by replicating and distributing films within days of DVD release. According to writer and director, Amaka Igwe, “Piracy makes up 82 per cent of the Nigerian market.” However, she identifies the real problem behind revenue generation as distributors’ ignorance about market supply and demand: “If people had a choice of buying the real copy, they would buy it, but they can’t find it.”

Igwe laments that distributors often print fewer copies than what the customers demand in fear that surplus inventory will remain unsold. As a result, pirates fill the gap with illegal copies.  Despite having completed work on six films, Igwe refuses to release any until a massive distribution system that she has been working on is unveiled in March 2011: “I’m not doing any new films, because that’s like pouring water into sand; you don’t get any returns.”

Revitalizing cinemas
Other filmmakers have turned to cinemas. Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada (2007) was the first Nigerian film to be shown at Lagos’ Silverbird Galleria. Instead of relying on the traditional system in which the marketer serves as the production’s main funding source, Afolayan subsidized his budget by negotiating product placement deals — which recouped 50 per cent of expenses before the film’s release.  Irapada went on to gross over N5 million at the box office and changed the industry’s perception of cinema release, a custom that had died out in the 1980s along with celluloid filmmaking in Nigeria.  Afolayan also screened the film at small venues like the National Arts Theatre as well as campuses across the country.

Afolayan expanded Irapada’s distribution model when The Figurine premiered in 2009. On top of the cinema release and product placement, The Figurine was one of the first Nigerian films to tour the international festival circuit, gathering critical acclaim in Berlin, New York, Rotterdam, Tarifa, and Kampala.

Afolayan’s equal mix of the artistic and the commercial attracted audiences to theatres in record numbers. He claims, “Many people who weren’t cinema-goers started going to the cinema because they were interested in seeing the film”.

It raked in N30 million during its eight-week theatrical run and was recognized as the most successful Nigerian cinema release at the time. On the back end, Afolayan has experimented with new distribution schemes.  When Irapada was distributed on DVD, Afolayan enlisted the help of a China-based disc replication firm for the encryption, which he believed “cut out piracy by 80 per cent”. He has big plans for The Figurine’s DVD release in February 2011: a subsidiary of the satellite TV service HiTV will distribute one million copies domestically and more abroad via website sales.

If Kunle Afolayan re-introduced cinema culture to the Nigerian audience, then Chineze Anyaene cemented its viability with her directorial debut, Ijé (2010). The film made N50 million at the box office last year, thus displacing The Figurine as the highest grossing Nigerian cinema release of all time. Next, Anyaene plans to distribute Ijé in Kenya, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

A grassroots approach
Veteran director, Tunde Kelani is thinking beyond cinemas. Recognizing that most Nigerians cannot afford the average N1,000-N1,500 cinema ticket price in the only nine functioning multiplexes in the country, Kelani is looking for more accessible alternatives. On top of the regular cinema circuit, he is working with the Lagos State Viewing Sports Center Association to use their 700-1,000 viewing centers to show his next feature, Ma’ami (2011), whenever there is a free slot in the programming schedule.

Kelani’s team, which includes Production Manager Jamiu Shoyode, is currently reviewing the locations. With an average capacity of 100 seats per center, Kelani hopes to reach at least 70,000 Lagosians by the end of Ma’ami’s release — although this conservative estimate doesn’t account for multiple screenings per center.

Kelani plans to charge N150 per ticket, hoping that the low price will encourage whole communities to see his film. The egalitarian approach also extends to the series of free open-air screenings that he is planning in conjunction with the viewing center release.  Kelani already proved the success of this method in 2009 when he reached over 2,500 people in 57 local councils at free outdoor viewings of his last film, Arugbá. He hopes to attract another sponsor to cover the costs for Ma’ami and to help him accomplish his goal of capturing “the masses”.

A high-tech distribution solution?
The Internet is also becoming a viable option for distributing Nollywood movies. In December 2010, telecommunications giant Glo joined its counterpart MTN in giving their subscribers access to DStv Mobile, a service that enables users to watch DStv live on their mobile devices. Available programming includes the Africa Magic movie channels that broadcast a never-ending rotation of Nollywood films.

Supporting this new Internet platform are two international submarine cables that were landed in Nigeria in 2009: Main One, operated by privately-owned Main One Cable Company, and Glo 1, operated by Globacom. The cables link Lagos to Europe and other West African countries with the goal of providing affordable and high-speed Internet services across the continent (though the author has yet to notice any improvement in Internet bandwidth).  Main One commenced commercial services in July 2010 and Glo 1 followed suit in October 2010.

The World Wide Web has the potential to become a virtual Idumota Market, though with a more manageable distribution chain than the real Lagos bazaar. The New Nollywood may not need to look beyond its laptop to reach the masses both near and far. Ultimately, the defining trait is innovation since piracy has become a catalyst for reinvention. Rather than fight in the trenches, filmmakers are sharpening their business sense, creating models for exhibition and distribution that demand rebranding the industry precisely because up-and-coming Nollywood fits in a future that, for now, is still running to meet itself.

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Last week, The Economist printed an interesting article which likened Nollywood’s transnational influence to a form of modern-day cultural colonization. To decide for yourself, I’ve pasted the text below, or you can read the original article here.


AN AFRICAN academic with a coiffed mane is sipping coffee in a Ghanaian airport when he spots a pulpy Nigerian film on an overhead screen. “A travesty, a grave crime,” he splutters. “Such imbecile images should never be shown in this country. They are veritably poisoning our culture.”

It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood, as the business is known, churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.

Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. And yet Africans have mixed feelings about Nollywood.

Among Africa’s elites, hostility is almost uniform. Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about “macabre scenes full of sorcery” in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the “Nigerianisation” of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to “snap its fingers the Nigerian way”.

Governments can be hostile, too. Several have brought in protectionist measures, including spurious production fees. In July Ghana started demanding $1,000 from visiting actors and $5,000 from producers and directors. The Democratic Republic of Congo has tried to ban Nigerian films altogether. Five decades after much of Africa gained independence, its elites fear being re-colonised, this time from within the continent. “The Nigerians will eat everything we have,” says a former official at the Ghanaian ministry of chieftaincy and culture.

Nollywood’s moguls make no attempt to deny their influence over the continent—they just regard it as a thoroughly good thing. “We give Africa development and knowledge,” says Ernest Obi, head of the Lagos actors’ guild, during a break from auditioning a gaggle of teenage girls dressed in ball gowns. “We teach people things. If they call us colonial masters, too bad.”

Picking up the colonists’ tools

The history of cinema in Africa is bound up with colonialism. The continent’s first films were imported by European rulers and shown in grand viewing halls with columned porticos. The aim was to entertain expatriates, but also to impress and cow locals. John Obago, a retired teacher, was eight when he saw his first moving picture in 1930s Kenya. “Oh, the elders did not like it,” he remembers. “But we just loved it. We were fascinated sitting there on the clean floor and seeing these white people get in and out of restaurants and buses.”

American and European directors were soon visiting the continent. They enthusiastically filmed elephant hunts, vividly coloured parrots and dutiful but dim native porters. They produced some classics. “The African Queen”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn and shot on location in Uganda and Congo, has aged particularly well. But many “jungle epics” were greeted with charges of racism. In the heated era of independence they came to be seen as tools of foreign domination.

The first true Nollywood film resulted from an ill-advised business venture. In 1992 Kenneth Nnebue, a trader, ordered a large consignment of blank videotapes from Taiwan. Finding them hard to sell, he hired a theatre director to make a cheap film and copied it onto the tapes to boost their appeal. “Living in Bondage”, the story of a farmer in a big city who loses his wife and is haunted by her ghost, sold more than half a million copies.

Many Nigerians still remember the first time they saw “Living in Bondage”. Odion, a drug addict with a toothless smirk on a street corner in central Lagos, says, “All of us kids at the time, even the under-tens, watched it and we just had to have more. I tell you, I tried many things since then. None is as addictive.”

The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema—a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. “Films are made on the run, sometimes literally,” says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria’s few female producers, during a shoot. “Some of the guys are hiding from the police.”

There are no studios and no film lots. Market traders double as financiers

All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves.

Desmond Akudinobi, a small man with darting eyes, runs a stall the size of a double bed. He opened it in 1999. By 2005 he had raised $20,000 to finance his first film. It was called “Without Apology” and made a small profit. Since then he has produced 10 more films. Every six months or so he buys a script from one of the many itinerant writers trawling the market, and hires a producer and crew. He prints discs in Alaba, another Lagos market. Some go onto his grimy shelves; many others are exported.

Bandit impresarios

As soon as a film is released, copyright thieves rip it off. It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the “mating season”, before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.

The merchants curse the pirates, but in a way they are a blessing. Pirate gangs were probably Nollywood’s first exporters. They knew how to cross tricky borders and distribute goods across a disparate continent where vast tracts of land are inaccessible. Sometimes they filled empty bags with films when returning from an arms delivery. Often they used films to bribe bored guards at remote borders. The pirates created the pan-African market Mr Akudinobi now feeds.

Other African countries made films long before Nollywood. Senegal in particular produced many movies featuring traditional songs and dances. Critics referred to such products as “embassy films” after their mostly diplomatic financiers (notably the French foreign ministry). Many catered to the sensibilities of their European sponsors. Scenes were laboriously captured on celluloid, at great expense. By contrast, Nollywood is cheap and nimble. Films are shot on digital videocameras. Scripts are improvised. Camera work can be shoddy and editing slapdash. But the sheer volume of output—a response to the piracy problem—eventually overwhelmed the embassy films.

Several things have aided Nollywood’s growth. Atrocious state-run television and slow internet connections mean there is little competition for entertainment. A steady decline in the price of digital cameras and a rise in average incomes makes for healthy profit margins. Yet the same conditions exist in many developing-world countries that have not created vibrant film industries. Three other ingredients are crucial to Nollywood’s formula: language, casting and plotting.

The triumph of English

In Europe films intended for export are often dubbed or subtitled. In Africa the former is too expensive and the latter pointless since many viewers are illiterate. The actors in Mr Akudinobi’s films speak English, rather than one of Nigeria’s 521 native tongues. This helps their prospects abroad. Large parts of the continent are familiar with English thanks to colonialism, and Nollywood’s influence is spreading the language more widely.

Clever casting is as important as the choice of language. Producers routinely hire actors from target countries to broaden their films’ appeal. A Kenyan might be cast to aid a marketing campaign in Kenya; a South African will be cast to appeal to South Africans. “I need a known face in each market,” explains a veteran producer.

Diverse casts can often be assembled without leaving Lagos. Actors from across the continent flock to the city’s Surulere district, hanging out in the muddy bars around Winis Hotel and at Ojez, a late-night restaurant with a band. Miriam, a gangly girl from Benin, is drinking beer in the afternoon. “I’m waiting for my first role,” she says. “We have so crazy many Nollywood films at home. They must want someone like me, right?”

The films’ plots too have strong pan-African appeal. They often revolve around the travails of new arrivals in big cities—an experience familiar across the continent. The epic film “One God One Nation” portrays a Muslim man and a Christian woman who struggle to marry. “Caught in the Act” shows a wife who is wrongly accused by her own mother-in-law of abducting a child. Nollywood films depict families whose faith has been shattered, whose certainties have been undermined. They show ordinary people struggling to make sense of a fast-changing, unkind world. Aspirations are dashed. Trust is forsaken. The overarching theme of Nollywood films is Africa’s troubled journey to modernity. Because Hollywood films tend to show people at the other end of that journey, they fail to resonate.

Plenty of juju and Jesus

African elites sneer at the frequent displays of witchcraft in Nigerian films. Traditional curses are imposed, spirits wander, juju blood flows. The tribulations of modern life are often shown to be the result of shadowy machinations. Murder and the occult are never far from the surface. “It is the Nollywood equivalent of the Hollywood horror movie,” says Ms Isong, the producer.

Yet tormented characters often find salvation by turning to Christ. A church scene is de rigueur in a Nollywood film. This is hardly surprising. Christianity is on the rise in Africa. The number of evangelicals has grown from some 17m four decades ago to more than 400m. In countries like Liberia and Zambia, Nigerian “owner-operated” churches preach the gospel. Many Nollywood stars are born-again Christians. Film credits usually end with the invocation: “To God Be the Glory”. Helen Ukpabio, who is a leading actress as well as a successful preacher, runs a decidedly religious production company called Liberty Films. “All the movies from our stable are means of spreading the gospel in preparation of rapture,” she explains.

Nigeria’s success in film-making has not just elicited carping from other African countries. It has fired their competitive instincts. South Africa, Tanzania and Cameroon are now producing hundreds of films a year. Kenya is beating Nigeria at its own awards ceremonies. Ghana and Liberia have christened their nascent dream factories “Ghallywood” and “Lolliwood”. They are rapidly winning back viewers in what has become a fiercely competitive market. “We hide no longer. We face the fight,” says John Dumelo, a Ghanaian star whose grin can be seen on posters across Accra, the capital.

Nollywood has been forced to raise its game in response. It has started making films outside Lagos to cut costs, mirroring the exodus of film-making from Los Angeles to cities like Toronto and Albuquerque—a process known as “runaway production”. Some producers are investing in better equipment. Others are trying to get their films onto the big screen. With a population of 15m, Lagos has just three working cinemas. But that number could soon rise to 30. “To bring in much-needed investors, the industry has to have physical assets,” says a banker.

Nollywood is also distributing its wares more widely. African diasporas in the West pay good money to see films from home. BSkyB, a British satellite broadcaster, and Odeon, a cinema chain, both show Nollywood classics. Consumer-goods companies offer sponsorship deals. “How much the industry has changed,” marvels Emeka Duru, a veteran Lagos producer. “Not long ago actors had to wear their own clothes on shoots.”

Film is now Africa’s dominant medium, replacing music and dance. It links distant societies, fosters the exchange of ideas and drives fashion trends. In Kenya, Nollywood has bred a taste for traditional Nigerian clothing. The prime minister, Raila Odinga, has been seen wearing a loosely flowing agbada in parliament.

The power of images

Film also profoundly shapes how Africans see their own continent. Few have access to news channels. They derive many of their opinions on neighbouring countries from the movies. More than once your correspondent has heard Africans say they had not been to such-and-such a place but knew it from a film. That the films they watch are made by other Africans is a source of considerable satisfaction. For decades many Africans have complained that the Western media misrepresent their continent, showing only calamities like war, disease, corruption and famine. They have come to see film as an antidote. “Nollywood is the voice of Africa, the answer to CNN,” says Lancelot Idowu, one of the best-known Nigerian directors.

And African films are becoming more adventurous. “Somewhere in Africa,” a Nigerian-Ghanaian co-production to be released next year, charts the rise and fall of a fictitious military dictator. It is based on the life stories of Idi Amin, Charles Taylor and Sani Abacha, who respectively ruled Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria. Another recent film, “The President Must Not Die”, portrays a decent head of state who faces assassination, an occurrence still common in Africa yet rarely reported in state-controlled media. Political violence remains a taboo subject in many countries. Nollywood is tackling it with zest and flair.

Other Africans may complain about the cultural infiltration of their countries. But Nollywood is no modern-day colonialist. Nigerian films are made by private individuals who do not receive government funds. They are distributed by small companies who must overcome official barriers to trade. And they are bought by consenting (indeed, highly enthusiastic) consumers. As Irving Kristol, a conservative American commentator who died in 2009, said of Hollywood’s international success: “It happened because the world wanted it to happen.”

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TK makes another appearance in the pages of 234NEXT this Sunday. See the below photo and article to read about the filming process and the distribution plan for Ma’ami.


Tunde Kelani shoots Ayomide Abatti (as Young Kashimawo) and Funke Akindele (as Ma’ami). Photo © 2010 Bic Leu


Kelani goes back to his roots

By Akintayo Abodunrin and Molara Wood

December 12, 2010 01:18AM

Foremost cinematographer in Nollywood, Tunde Kelani, bounces back from the setback of the heavily pirated ‘Arugba’ with a new film, ‘Ma’ami’, starring Funke Akindele. In this interview with NEXT, Kelani talks about the making of ‘Ma’ami’ and his plans to get the film to the masses.

How did Arugba do commercially?

‘Arugba’ is a flop. There is no doubt about it because we were really modest in our expectations; we bought the recommended holograms, 100,000 from the National Film and Video Censorship Board and we didn’t sell 50,000. We still have thousands and thousands of copies of the film. There is no way we can sell with that level of piracy. Right now, we have in our possession three pirated versions and then one London pirated version. All our films have been pirated but there had never been such an orchestrated attack, like that of ‘Arugba’.

How do plan to forestall this with your forthcoming film, Ma’ami?

I think that generally this is a reflection of the Nigerian society. The industry is suffering from lack of the necessary infrastructure so this is going to go on for a long time. I don’t believe the government at this time has the capacity to deal with it, especially now when elections are coming. If I carry a few samples of pirated films to any police station, I’m sure that I will meet more difficult issues that need the attention law enforcement agencies.

We have to adopt the physical division model in Nigeria where I have to release VCD or DVD and we have to physically move it from region to region, town to town.

Broadband internet access is at the moment less than two percent penetration in Nigeria. So, that suggests that we have to do physical distribution for a long time. The desperation in piracy since ‘Arugba’ has gone worse… I understand that in the market today on any release, in the evening of the same day the pirated versions will come in the market. It suggests that there is no way we can risk physical distribution of ‘Ma’ami’ so we have to come up with another model for making sure that it gets to the people.

Can you talk about your new strategy?

I’m passionate about reviving the cinema going culture. That’s why I initiated the mobile cinema project and I got support from the Lagos State Government. We screened ‘Arugba’ in the 57 local governments and development areas of Lagos State. We took the film on the road and it showed free, in the open air to Lagosians. I’ve been toying with the idea of developing at least 30 cinemas in Lagos State, working with the local governments. I’m already in discussion with the Association of Sports Viewing Centres in Lagos State and I’m hopeful that perhaps we can put together a chain of 200 such centres. Secure, comfortable centres that can seat a minimum of 100 people. This way, I plan to take the film to the grassroots.

What about the rest of the country?

First of all, my focus is on Lagos State because it is viable and accepting; and we have Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola who is keen and he’s been very encouraging and supportive. If this model works in Lagos State, then we can explore the possibility of exporting it to the whole of the South West and by extension the whole country.

What can be done to widen the acceptance base of the Yoruba film?

I don’t think that’s a problem because now we are moving into the area of indigenous cultural expression. Countries like China, Japan or India for instance, how [have their films] been accessible? The whole world has been waiting, but the film has to be of a reasonable quality and standard. Japan and India [make] films of quality standard, so that’s all we have to do. Already, some of the films we have produced (at Mainframe) have been subtitled in English, French and in the case of ‘Saworoide’, we did a Portugese subtitling. So that’s what we should do. Of course, I will be excited about the possibilities of meeting a great indigenous cultures like, for instance, Japanese and Chinese, rather than looking to following Hollywood. So for me, Yoruba cinema has a great prospect.

You’ve been filming ‘Ma’ami’ with Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo and the young man you are introducing to cinema for the first time, Ayomide Abati. What has that experience been like?

Filming ‘Ma’ami’ is exciting because it has some element of my childhood in it. For example, when we combed the whole of Abeokuta looking for a primary school that has a football field, I realised it was becoming rare because education standard has fallen so low that they don’t consider such development part of education anymore. I had to return to my own Oke-Ona United Primary School in Abeokuta and luckily we still had a kind of a field that we used 50 years ago. It’s still there but in bad shape. The buildings are still standing although they are crying out for [renovation].

Again, we scouted for possible appropriate locations but we didn’t find any, so we had to return to my own family compound; and for me it was like going back home. We had to repaint all the houses in the neighbourhood and our single interior set for Funke Akindele and the boy actually was shot in our own house. I found a boxfull of documents which my father had kept away. Going through these documents, I found a Christmas card that was sent to me in 1960 – from a girl and it was ‘With love from Yetunde’. I couldn’t even remember who it was! It was going back to my own childhood and my own neighbourhood and I knew the terrain like the back of my hand. That’s why making the film is special to me, I could see things from my growing up years.

There were reports you had dropped Funke Akindele from the film but she’s still in it. What actually happened?

It was a misunderstanding. After I had talked to her and released the script to her, I was coming from my ophthalmologist and there was a video shop. I saw the poster of a film called ‘Iya Mi’ and it was Funke Akindele on the poster. I was shocked because of the closeness between the titles, ‘Ma’ami’ and ‘Iya Mi’. For a moment I was concerned that it might mislead some of the audience because I had received a few calls from people asking me if the film was out. I was apprehensive that ‘Ma’ami’ might be mistaken as Part two of ‘Iya Mi’. I sent for the film, I saw it and what I saw was that Funke was not even playing the mother in the film, she actually played the daughter.

I thought something was funny… I decided that we were going to change her, to do another film entirely. She heard this news and came to me and explained her own side of the story. I thought Funke needed the film, she wanted to do ‘Ma’ami’. I thought she genuinely wanted to be in the project and I was convinced.

Of course, there is a reason why I decided to work with Funke Akindele because I have followed her career closely; and in (my films) ‘Narrow Path’ and ‘Abeni’, she had played minor roles, supporting roles. I was waiting for the right story to cast her. What was strategic for me, it was not a glamorous role and in the film, she had a change of costume only once; wearing the same thing again and again. She’s not the glamorous star that everybody expected. I think this was a challenge for her and she had to play convincingly the mother of a 10-year-old.

And the young man that you cast as her child – you know what they say in Hollywood: never work with animals or children. How was it?

Ayomide is a child in the neighbourhood in Oshodi where we live, he’s quite lively and gets along with everybody. But my worry… at this point I have to appeal to parents because we are gradually getting to a point where it is becoming very difficult to find young or adult Yoruba actors and actresses who can speak the Yoruba language. I think it’s becoming a challenge. For about two or three days, we were really disturbed – both the young Kashimawo (Ayomide Abati) and the adult Kashimawo (Wole Ojo) – because it’s now a problem and this is a result of when consciously parents discourage their children from speaking their own language or practicing their own natural culture.

I think that’s the result of an identity crisis and we had identity crisis on the set. I think that Ayomide has learned from that experience and I think he will be redeemed. But I think it’s a crisis in the Yoruba nation. There is no doubt in my mind that the children of the elite and the lower class no longer speak Yoruba in their homes. I doubt even the lawmakers, if any of their children speak Yoruba at home.

Can you tell us more about the making of Ma ami from a filmmaker’s point of view?

I think ‘Ma ‘ami’ is the beginning of another era because we are at a point now in digital media where we have access to great technology and it is the first and only film that I have shot digitally in what can be called 35 mm. You know they talk about shooting 35mm celluloid; this is the digital equivalent of it. In other words, we shot in 4K-to-a-35mm-censor. I think this is exciting. It is just like when I discovered photography in those days when I was young, I was excited every day of my life. Now, I’m excited all over again because of the various possibilities in the delivery of the content.

If there was demand and corporate sponsorship, we could get a 35mm print in celluloid for cinema release and we could do digital projection on any of the four formats since our original format was resolution 4K. For me, this is as topmost as you can get and I am happy I was supported by at least four companies. ‘Ma ‘ami’ is a high-low budget film. It [cost] around 150,000 dollars, but I’m hopeful that it will be worth something like 700,000 dollars. I have the objective to achieve more with less.

When can we expect to see the film?

Work is going on on ‘Ma’ami’ everyday and I still have some bits to shoot. We designed it in such a way that we rigged an editing system, work is going on everyday. We have a digital laboratory and presntly we are doing our first primary colour correction and then encoding into the editing format. The rough cut of the film is almost complete.There should be a workable version before the end of December because for Funke and some of the various expertise on the film, I have to enter the film for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Quadadogou (FESPACO). I think I’ll be in time to enter for AMAA which closes December 15.

You have been able to sustain a blockbuster career, what are you doing that the other filmmakers are not doing?

I don’t think the films can really be called blockbusers but at any time, they meant something. They show a progression and at any point, they have been experimental either from point of technology or digital media. If I thought that the future of African Cinema or world cinema will be in digital media, then I think I’m right because officially the year 2010 has been mooted by experts (as) the death of the chemical process of making films.

The collection of films that I have made have been successful , both universities both home and abroad use them as resource. Particularly for ‘Arugba’, there have been one or two universities that ordered copies for African Studies. For me, that has been a kind of satisfaction and encouragement.

You relocated to Benin Republic where you shot the ‘Abeni’ series and the ‘Narrow Path’ but you are back. What happened?

I couldn’t relocate totally because I’m one of the people who subscribe to the notion that ‘ibi ori dani si laagbe’ and it was clear throughout my career that I had options of staying abroad. I am happy and grateful to God that I have been created in Yorubaland and so far He has made it enjoyable. It is exciting for me, not only Yoruba culture but all Nigerian cultures. What happened was that I went there to see the Yorubas staying there and see how they are faring.

I didn’t stay just in Porto Novo, Akete, Isede, Pobe, Ketu; I went as far as Dassa up north , Sabe. I did spend quite some there, about three years. If you watch the ‘Narrow Path’ for instance, the marriage scenes, where they sing marriage songs, that is the song in that community. It shows that this is Yorubaland and these are Yoruba people. That was really exciting for me and obviously we reaped good things because the experience kicked off the Beninoise film industry. Now, they make a lot of home videos just like in Nigeria. I believe that our cooperation started that film industry up to a point that they make films regularly and I am not needed anymore.

Why don’t you do collaborations with other filmmakers?

It depends on the project. For instance, I would gladly co-produce any Nigerian film from other cultures if they will do things from their vast literary resources like ‘Danda’ by Arthur Nwankwo or any of Cyprian Ekwensi’s or any of Chinua Achebe’s work. ‘The Passport of Malam Ilia’, things like that. Most of [Mainframe’s] works spring from literature because I read a lot when I was young; I love novels and literature and I will be willing to work with [other filmmakers]; it depends on the orientation, if they want to follow Hollywood. I don’t want to follow Hollywood, I’m an indigenous filmmaker, I believe in telling our own great stories and finding expression and taking the audience through my own cultural background. So I’m not really comfortable making a film the Hollywood style. The prospect of a co-production where Samuel L Jackson will play Sango, I don’t think it excites me.

Or because I want to penetrate international or American market and I would use Danny Glover as Kabiyesi in my story. That’s not quite what I want.

Mainframe recently collaborated with NANTAP and Dance Guild of Nigeria to stage ‘Yeepa! Solarin Nbo’. Can we expect more of such?

Yes, theatre has always been my passion because when I was in Form Two at the Abeokuta Grammar School around 1963, I was part of the excursion team that travelled all the way from Abeokuta to watch ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ at the 0bisesan Hall in Ibadan. It was a privilege watching Kola Ogunmola on stage and it was a production of the University of Ibadan. It was the first time I sat in a theatre where I witnessed the effect of lighting; when the light changed to black or came on, my head was this big. It must have made a lasting impression on me. Again, I was privileged to have [seen] all the great plays, like ‘Oba Koso’ and ‘Kurunmi’, for instance, and ‘Danda’. For me, it’s seeing those people live on stage, appreciating them. Sunny Oti, Shodipo. The thrill I got looking at Duro Ladipo on stage or Ogunde on stage, I thought they were not human beings. It’s a disaster that we have not documented any of the great classics, so I would really have loved to do ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ on stage for the 50th anniversary of Nigeria Independence but of course we couldn’t because of the shortage of time and then Lagos State came in at just the time for us to stage ‘Yeepa! Solarin Nbo’.

What was exciting for me is the the possibilty of doing the standard Yoruba presentation where you do an opening glee, because the Yoruba theatre which has influenced me was ‘Total Theatre’. Before we watch the play they will do an opening glee which is a song and dance routine – perhaps a summary of the whole play in dance. And at the end of the day, they will do a closing glee, so I conceived that and wanted to work with NANTAP and the Dance Guild of Nigeria to do an opening glee and to use Ogunde’s ‘Yoruba Ronu’ and ‘Petepete’ by 9ice to give it a contemporary touch. We tried to bring it back during the Ileya (Eid) festival with LTV and corporate sponsors because, coming out of the play, I am seeing things like people saying: I have never watched a Yoruba stage play in my life. People saying: we have never watched anything like this in 25 years. This doesn’t even speak well of the country.

It’s a pity, a shame really and I think somehow, we have to find a means of continuing and in my lifetime produce ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ before all the original cast die. I know where the material is. One or two people are still alive and its been studied… I befriended Pa Amos Tutuola before he died, I visited him at Odo Ona, Ibadan, several times.

What next after Ma’ami?

I have a string of projects lined up. First, I will like to do an adaptation of Yinka Egbokhare’s ‘The Dazzling Mirage’, about sickle cell. Then I will have to quickly do another Yoruba film to pacify the Yoruba audience so I will do an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s ‘Wuraola’ and then I will love to do ‘Cordelia’, which is another Osofisan stuff. This is set against a popular military coup and I have always wanted to do something about one of our military coups. Then I will do ‘Dog’s on Lions Trail’ which I have shelved for about seven years. It’s an adaptation of Kola Akinlade’s ‘Aja To N Lepa Ekun’. It’s interesting because all those five or six films I have mentioned are adaptations from literary resource.

We don’t have as much production anymore in Yoruba literature; will there come a time when you run out of resource?

It’s not possible because if I take to Ifa corpus, for instance, those are more than a thousand stories. Our ancestors have already done all the work and passed all these things to us. It’s another thing if we close our eyes and turn our back on it and never look. It’s not possible in two lifetimes to exhaust literary resource. We haven’t even touched any of Fagunwa’s works. Two pages of D.O. Fagunwa is about two films. It’s all there.

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My article on Tunde Kelani’s new distribution model was just published in the Sunday edition of 234NEXT. To read the online version, please click here. I have also included the photo and text below:

Tunde Kelani on the set of Ma’ami

Tunde Kelani looks to reinvent Nollywood

By Bic Leu 

December 5, 2010 12:47AM

“Let’s do that again!” is a familiar refrain on the set of Tunde Kelani’s new film, ‘Ma’ami’, starring Funke Akindele in the title role. Over the past month of shooting in Lagos and Abeokuta, ‘Ma’ami’ cast and crew have witnessed a meticulous Kelani on a quest for perfection, his directions methodically punctuated by the clapping of the slate as it records the increasing number of takes per scene.

Kelani belongs to a new set of Nigerian directors who combine well-trained professionals with the latest technology to produce high quality films that adhere to international standards. These rising directors–among them Kunle Afolayan of ‘The Figurine’ and Andy Amadi Okoroafor of the upcoming ‘Relentless’–thus challenge the stereotype of Nollywood production as a haphazard exercise in guerilla filmmaking. Kelani has distinguished himself as the most experienced of the group, as evidenced by his 1978 diploma in filmmaking from the London Film School and by his work in the 1980s as a celluloid cinematographer for Nigerian television and film productions. Since establishing Mainframe Productions in Oshodi, Lagos in 1992, Kelani has consistently released films like ‘Thunderbolt’ and ‘Saworoide’, which have become favourites in Yoruba households across Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Mobile cinema

Kelani, however, has not yet seen the monetary rewards that such popularity promises. Pirates cut into his profits by making and selling illegal copies of his movies, often within as few as three days after each film’s release into the market. “We lost everything because of the piracy,” Kelani sighed, while lamenting the financial damages suffered after the release of ‘Arugbá’, his most recently completed work. Piracy is a common method of infringement upon the intellectual property of the entire industry, but Kelani is ahead of many of his peers in finding a solution to this problem. He has refused to release Ma’ami on VCD or DVD—a surprising move, given Nollywood’s distinction as a video film industry and given the focus of its distribution networks on home entertainment consumption. Kelani instead plans to solicit government and private sector sponsorship to fund a series of free mobile cinema screenings throughout Lagos State.

Kelani has already tested the logistics of this model by petitioning Lagos State Government to fund free screenings of ‘Arugbá’ from February to May 2009 at informal open-air venues in 57 local government and local council development areas. These events reached over 2,500 viewers. Public service announcements from the Lagos State Government were inserted at the beginning and in the middle of the film, educating viewers about environmental sanitation, tax payment, and land speculation. Kelani is not motivated by large profits; he only wants enough money to cover production expenses. His primary goal is to reach “the critical mass, the audience that I have at home.”

Kelani’s long-term plan for combating piracy will focus on revitalising cinema-going culture in Lagos. This is an imposing challenge on two fronts. Most functioning cinemas in the city are located on the Island, while the majority of Kelani’s audience lives on the Mainland. In light of Lagos’ atrocious traffic congestion, these theatres are therefore inaccessible to most would-be viewers. The high price of cinema tickets (N1,000–N1,500 per adult) compared to the relatively low price of a VCD (N100–N250 at Idumota Market on Lagos Island) makes cinema-going costs additionally prohibitive to most Lagosians.

Lagos City Cinema Project

But Kelani is optimistic. In September, he launched the Lagos City Cinema Project by submitting proposals to build small cinema houses in 10 local government areas, with the ultimate goal of building one in each of the 57 local government areas. Citing viewers’ favourable responses to the government messages inserted in the Arugbá mobile cinema screenings, Kelani markets his project as “a tool for community development” and “an easy and effective instrument of mass mobilisation at local government-level.” One local government area–Onigbongbo–has responded to the request by offering Kelani the use of its four existing viewing centers, informal screening rooms that seat 50 people each. Kelani is excited to integrate these centers into his model, and he hopes that the absence of new construction costs will enable him to lower ticket prices at this site. He even plans to create jobs by engaging area youth to work at the viewing centers.

Tunde Kelani’s efforts to reinvent the Nollywood distribution model have the capacity to effect wider economic development. In August 2010, the first job summit organised by the National Economic Management Team and sponsored by the World Bank acknowledged that the creative industries are among the most vibrant sectors in world trade and that Nigeria has not yet reached its full potential for development and export in these areas. The summit also agreed that only a comprehensive strategy could tackle the major challenges that are confronting the industry, such as piracy, low quality of production standards, as well as marketing and distribution linkages. Kelani’s progressive innovations may therefore set the standard for the rest of Nollywood and propel Nigeria toward a new role on the world economic stage.

Bic Leu is a US Fulbright Fellow researching the social impact of Nollywood at the University of Lagos. She regularly records her observations at http://www.findingnollywood.com.

*NEXT’s interview with Tunde Kelani will be published next Sunday.

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Recovered Illegal DVDs at the "Operation Access Nollywood" Press Conference in Brooklyn, NY, Photo courtesy NollywoodNYC

On November 4, 2010, Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced the seizure of 10,000 counterfeit Nollywood DVDs from nine Brooklyn video stores. The recovery, named “Operation Access Nollywood” is the start of an investigation into the counterfeiting and illegal sale of Nigerian movies in the United States. According to the New York Post, the American market for Nollywood films is estimated at $20 million per year, compared to the $250 million African market.

Per Hynes, ““The sale of bootleg and counterfeit goods deprives the city and state of New York of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, at a time when we all need it most, and it deprives the artists who made the movies of their well-deserved proceeds.”

The seizure was precipitated by a complaint to the District Attorney’s Action Center from Tony Abulu, President of the US-based Filmmakers Association of Nigeria. Abulu said, “The sweat and blood of Africa, both on the continent and in the U.S., will not go to waste.”

Now that US law enforcement officials have prioritized protecting the intellectual property of Nollywood filmmakers on American shores, all eyes are turning to their Nigerian counterparts. What is stopping a raid on this scale from happening in Lagos, where the impact will be ten-fold?

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