Archive for the ‘Reading & Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium’ Category

Director Kunle Afolayan and I at the 'Reading & Producing Nollywood' symposium on the front cover of 'NEXT on Sunday', April 3, 2011

AMAA winner for Best Diaspora Feature Laquita Cleare and I at the AMAA ceremony on the cover of 'NEXT on Sunday' Arts & Culture section, April 3, 2011

'Reading & Producing Nollywood' coverage in 'NEXT on Sunday', April 3, 2011

I’m happy to report that thanks to 234NEXT, news coverage is still going strong for Reading and Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium held on March 23-25 at the University of Lagos. I have uploaded the scan of the NEXT on Sunday front page and accompanying articles here. You can also access the articles online below. Many thanks to Molara Wood and her team of reporters for their support.


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Many thanks to our supporters, panelists, and 300 attendees over the past three days at UNILAG. For press coverage of the event, please see the links below:

Also, look out for the JaraTV coverage of the Symposium this weekend.

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Serendipitously, my article–Nollywood as Popular Art?–has just been published in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos newsletter one week before the Reading and Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium at the University of Lagos. I have copied and pasted the text and photos below, or you can download the original PDF here (see pg. 11).

Film marketer in Idumota Market. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Nollywood as Popular Art?
Bic Leu

The Nigerian film industry has become one of the principal forces of popular art on the continent. Its commercially accessible format distinguishes it from other African cinema cultures–in particular that of the Francophone countries, where filmmakers produce highly stylized “art films” driven by socio-political messages.  Francophone films are primarily funded (and thus shaped) by the French government and distributed internationally to film festivals and other noncommercial channels. On the other hand, Nollywood films are privately funded, with (until now) little government subsidy or foreign aid. While most of the Francophone products are rarely seen by African audiences, their Nigerian counterparts are characterized by their capacity to transcend local ethnic and national boundaries and be voraciously consumed by millions of viewers across the continent, the Diaspora, as well as everywhere else in between.

Nollywood production is prolific compared to its anemic Francophone equivalent. The Nigerian National Film and Video Censors Board received 1,612 local films for censorship registration in 2010, which averages to an astounding 31 new releases per week. The industry’s basis in the informal economy means that this number does not include the countless scores of films released on the black market and thus not accounted for by the Board.

As African anthropologist Karin Barber (1987) observes, popular arts attempt to appeal to as large a market as possible through a system of repetition. In Nollywood films, aspirations for social mobility are addressed through revolving sets in interiors of posh homes with HD television sets and elaborate sound systems, refrigerators, and black SUVs. Urban anxiety is conveyed through stock shots of Lagos streets and skyline, since harassment from “area boys” and authorities demanding bribes make it exceedingly difficult to shoot exterior scenes. Common fears are written and rewritten into narratives revolving around love, betrayal, greed, and the power of religious faith as a panacea for all social ills. From film to film, actors play the same roles and even repeat the same lines, like Ramsey Noah’s “Wakey, wakey, baby”–which awakens sleeping lovers in both Guilty Pleasures (2009) and A Private Storm (2010).   Even the crews remain constant as producers and directors carry them from set to set. As such, Nollywood films communicate with its African audience through a series of endless reflections intended to reinforce the shared conventions and desires of contemporary Nigerian society.

However, Nollywood is starting to defy Barber’s widely-accepted definition of popular art, which states that all commercial popular arts are produced within the African informal sector. Nigerian films are increasingly disseminated through recognized official channels, as exemplified by the box office success of recent cinema-only releases, such as Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine (2009) and Chineze Anyaene’s Ijé (2010). Nigerian films are also screened at the Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), the high-brow bastion of Francophone African films that had banned Nigerian products from its line-up in the recent past. The industry has also become the subject of countless academic articles and international film festivals; its practitioners are frequently invited to participate in film panels all over the world. Formal institutions are also becoming involved in the development of the industry. In January, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the Bank of Industry would administer the $200 million Special Entertainment Fund (which includes support from the World Bank) as low-interest loans designed to improve training, production, and distribution.

But the embrace of the mainstream often means sacrificing inventiveness to regulation and standardized expectations.  The question remains: as Nollywood begins to interact with the formal economy, will it lose its mobility and accessibility as a popular art form? Or will this new development elevate Nigerian filmmaking to the same status as other established international film cultures, to be no longer derided as a low-cost novelty in guerilla filmmaking?

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 expressed here are her own and do not represent those of the Fulbright program or the US Department of State.

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Reading & Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium on 23-25 March at the University of Lagos has released an updated program of events with sessions and speakers. Please visit www.readingnollywood.wordpress.com for further information.

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The conveners of Reading & Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium have been receiving proposals on a variety of topics. Become part of the discussion and submit your abstracts and proposals by Monday, February 21.

Click here for the Call for Papers and submission details.

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A reminder that deadline is February 21 for submitting your proposals and abstracts to the Reading & Producing Nollywood: An International Symposium, on March 23-25 at the University of Lagos. Please click on the image above to download the CFP and go to the symposium website: www.readingnollywood.wordpress.com for more information.


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Cast and crew set-up on the set of Tunde Kelani's Ma'ami. Photo © 2010 Bic Leu

Conveners: Professor Duro Oni (University of Lagos)
Professor Onookome Okome (University of Alberta/Pan African University)
Bic Leu (US Fulbright Fellow/University of Lagos)

Venue: University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria

Date: Wednesday, March 23–Friday, March 25, 2011

Submission deadline: Monday, February 21, 2011 to bic.leu@fulbrightmail.org

Website for more information: www.readingnollywood.wordpress.com

Everyone in Nigeria has an opinion on and about Nollywood. This is also true of Africans and those in the African Diaspora. Opinion expressed by each respondent depends on a number of factors, some of which may have little or nothing to do with the content of Nollywood films or the industry itself. This is partly because Nollywood can no longer be ignored and partly because even for those who wish the industry a bad turn, all such predictions have failed.

For those who referred to this cinematic practice as a “peddler’s trade,” the reality now is that this “trade” has taken on the narrative of the Nigerian nation as a cultural and political entity. The narrative machine that it has generated has permeated all aspects of the Nigeria world, making the skeptics of its narrative focus and style furious at it for creating what some of them call “false culture”. Comments about what Nollywood presents to the public are therefore not always salutary. If anything, they are often acerbic. In fact, these comments cast doubt on both the narrative practices, the content of the narratives as social documents and the very industry itself.

Among the intellectual class in Nigeria, Nollywood films are more or less street art, one which should have no social import. One argument is that the makers of Nollywood are often seduced by quick financial turn over, and for this reason the content of Nollywood films is often secondary to ideologies and other cultural matters. Seduced by the allure of exaggerated earning reported for the industry, government cultural agencies have embraced Nollywood with care and some caution as they fight to have some of the benefits accruing to the industry. For operators of these agencies, the bottom line is expressed in the entrepreneurial sprits of workers in the industry, something that is lacking in the larger Nigerian society. Elsewhere in Africa, and in the African Diaspora, Nollywood has not been very well received either. Francophone filmmakers derided the style of this cinematic tradition until recently, and only began to rethink this visual practice when it became part and parcel of M-Net screening schedule, a feat which the Francophone film industry has yet to achieve. Even then the suspicions about the industry are still rife.

At the heart of the matter is, to repeat this point, that Nollywood is amateurish, crude in part and stylistically reminiscent of the pre-silent film era. Yet, not even the most avid critic denies the popularity of these films. Indeed, it is this popularity that has given critics and other cultural enthusiasts the steam and energy to think of this media as a viable medium of narrating contemporary Nigeria while at the same time denying it of the very social presence it commands among it teeming clientele.

This symposium is designed to investigate two crucial issues of negation-the perception and reading of Nollywood as a cultural practice. It will ask questions such as: How do we read Nollywood as culture and as an industry that produces culture? Even if it is intellectually justifiable to read Nollywood side by side other cinematic practices such as Hollywood and Bollywood, can such pairing bring out what Nollywood really represents to those for whom the films are made? Is it possible to read Nollywood outside the framework of popular culture? As popular culture, what critical category do we need to read it as an urban African art?

The conveners solicit proposals and abstracts from a broad spectrum dealing with the debate around “reading Nollywood”. Although not exclusive to the interests of the conveners, proposals and abstracts dealing with these themes are especially welcomed: the sociality of the art of Nollywood, Nollywood films and contemporary Nigerian culture; Nollywood and the art of the popular in Africa; Nollywood and the African cinema; the art of story-telling in Nollywood; genre and the Nollywood film; Nollywood in the city and the city in Nollywood; Nollywood and the economy of the occult; Nollywood abroad; politics and governance in Nollywood films; women behind the camera and in Nollywood films; and towards an epistemic framework for “reading” narrativity and locality in Nollywood films.

Proposal and abstracts should be sent not later than February 21, 2011 to: Ms. Bic Leu, US Fulbright Fellow, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, Nigeria, bic.leu@fulbrightmail.org.

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