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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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In early May, the World Bank committed $20 million to the Nigerian movie industry, with the intention that this new funding source would lead to improvements in Nollywood’s production, distribution, and marketing channels. The loan is part of the World Bank’s Growth and Employment in States (GEMS) project, which hopes to create 100,000 new jobs over five years across six growing domestic industries.

The substantial loan was announced at the Harnessing Nigerian Entertainment Industry for Formal Export workshop organized by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), in collaboration with the World Bank, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).

This development will help to fill a problematic financial gap in the industry. For years, many Nollywood filmmakers have bemoaned the challenge of producing quality work due to the capital-intensive nature of movie production and the concurrent dearth of funding. According to the United Nations Creative Economy Report 2008, the inherent potential of African culture markets is not being fully realized, in part owing to the lack of an “integrated, coordinated framework for African cultural policy.”  From the international development viewpoint, the World Bank’s elective involvement in the industry effectively acknowledges Nollywood as an instrument for the achievement of broader development goals, including job creation and poverty reduction.

Yet the $20 million loan has raised many valid questions since the World Bank did not clarify plans to distribute nor to implement the loan. The last formal loan to Nollywood ended disastrously in 2008 when Ecobank sued several Nollywood directors for default. Helping Nollywood to realize its potential will require coherent multidisciplinary policies, consistent policy implementation, and dedicated human resources, in addition to financial assistance.

As previously mentioned on this blog, this notable influx of capital also generates concerns about formalizing the industry. Will Nollywood’s entrepreneurial spirit be suppressed? Will a Nollywood film still be a Nollywood film if it is slickly produced and available on Netflix?

*Edited by Ms. Nackman

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