A movie scene.
With a wealth of talent, creativity, and diverse storytelling, it’s no gain saying the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) and by extension the African film industries have firmly established themselves on the global stage.
These film industries, Nollywood in particular, the biggest in Africa and the second largest in the world after India’s Bollywood, have witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, cutting across borders and captivating audiences worldwide.
With an average revenue of $15.32 billion and an astonishing output of about 2,500 films annually, making it one of the most prolific film industries in the world, second only to India’s Bollywood, not only has the Nigerian film industry reached the pinnacle of popularity domestically but has transformed geometrically, thus reshaping business strategies and redefining filmmaking in the country.
It should be noted that film as a medium first arrived in Nigeria in the late 19th century, in the form of peephole viewing of motion picture devices. These were soon replaced in the early 20th century with improved motion picture exhibition devices, with the first set of films screened at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos from 12 to 22 August 1903.
The earliest feature film made in Nigeria is 1926’s Palaver directed by Geoffrey Barkas, which was also the first to feature Nigerian actors in substantial roles. As of 1954, mobile cinema vans played to at least 3.5 million people in Nigeria, and films being produced by the Nigerian Film Unit were screened for free at the 44 available cinemas.
After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the cinema business rapidly expanded, with new cinema houses being established. As a result, Nigerian films in theatres increased in the late 1960s into the 1970s, especially productions from Western Nigeria, owing to former theatre practitioners such as Hubert Ogunde and Moses Olaiya transitioning into the big screen.
In 1972, the Indigenisation Decree issued by Yakubu Gowon military administration, which demanded the transfer of ownership of about a total of 300 film theatres from their foreign owners to Nigerians, resulted in more Nigerians playing active roles in the cinema and film.
The oil boom of 1973 through 1978 also contributed immensely to the spontaneous boost of the cinema culture in Nigeria, as the increased purchasing power in Nigeria made a wide range of citizens have disposable income to spend on cinema going and on home television sets.
After the decline of the golden era, the Nigerian film industry experienced a second major boom in the 1990s, supposedly marked by the release of the direct-to-video film Living in Bondage (1992).
The industry peaked in the mid-2000s to become the second largest film industry in the world in terms of the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and behind only India.
It started dominating screens across the African continent, and by extension the Caribbean and the wider diaspora, with the movies significantly influencing cultures and the film actors becoming household names across the continent. The boom also led to backlash against Nigerian films in several countries, bordering on theories such as the ‘Nigerialization of Africa’.
Since the mid-2000s, during the decline of the video-film era, the Nigerian film landscape has undergone some restructuring to promote quality in output and professionalism in the industry, with Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine (2009) widely regarded as marking the major turnaround of contemporary Nigerian cinema.
Given the development, there has since been resurgence in cinema establishments, and a steady return of the cinema culture in Nigeria. As of 2013, Nigerian cinema is rated as the third most valuable film industry in the world based on its worth and revenues generated.
It’s therefore, no gain saying, Nollywood’s influence extends far beyond the African continent, with its unique storylines and talented actors captivating audiences worldwide and movies from the industry significantly influencing cultures.
Speaking on the role of film festivals in film industry development, founder, African Indigenous Language Film Festival (Ailff), Osezua Stephen-Imobhio, said in recent years, the African film festival industry has been experiencing a remarkable surge, propelling African cinema into the international spotlight.
He noted that from regional events that celebrate local talent to renowned festivals that champion the continent’s storytelling, the stage is set for African filmmakers to shine bright on the global stage. He added that as the world takes notice of this paradigm shift, it becomes increasingly evident that the African film industry is set to revolutionize the world of cinema.
According to him, a wave of dynamic regional film festivals across Africa has emerged, providing a breeding ground for creativity and a platform for filmmakers to showcase their remarkable talent.
He said, “events such as the African International Film Festival, Zanzibar International Film Festival and the Durban International Film Festival have solidified their position as key players in the African film festival circuit. These festivals not only screen exceptional works from the continent but also offer invaluable networking opportunities for filmmakers to forge connections with industry professionals.”
Imobhio further noted that simultaneously, international film festivals are embracing the immense potential of African cinema.
“Prominent events in Europe and North America are dedicating special sections or entire programs to African films, an acknowledgment of the vibrant storytelling and cinematic excellence emerging from the continent.
“This increased exposure has opened doors for African filmmakers, fostering collaborations with international production companies and widening the reach of African films to global audiences,” he stated.
According to him, the African film festival landscape is undergoing a transformative shift as it recognises and honours films that delve into pressing social issues, celebrate cultural heritage, and champion diversity.
“The illustrious FESPACO in Burkina Faso, renowned as the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, stands testament to this commitment. By showcasing films that resonate with African audiences while addressing universal themes, these festivals are not only promoting cinematic excellence but also facilitating cultural exchange and understanding,” Imobhio explained.
He noted that the African Indigenous Language Film Festival (Ailff), a newcomer in the film festival scene, is making a big impression with its focus on promoting films shot in African indigenous languages. The next edition of the festival is scheduled to take place from July 3 – 6 this year.
The festival curator, aver that a key driver of film festival industry transformation is technology. “Online streaming platforms and virtual film festivals have amplified the accessibility of African films, allowing cinephiles worldwide to revel in the richness of the African storytelling tradition.
“Even amidst challenging times, festivals like the African Film Festival, New York and Film Africa in London have ingeniously adapted to virtual formats, ensuring that the magic of African cinema continues to captivate audiences from the comfort of their homes,” he said.
“As we witness this remarkable momentum, it becomes clear that the African film festival industry is poised for an extraordinary future, one that will empower African cinema to transcend borders and connect with audiences across the globe.
“The infectious creativity, diverse narratives, and unbridled passion emanating from African filmmakers are unveiling a new era in cinema, where African voices will no longer be silenced but celebrated.
“Indeed, the stage is set, and the spotlight shines brightly on African cinema. Let us embrace this cultural revolution and support the African film festival industry as it propels the world towards a more inclusive, diverse, and richer cinematic landscape,” Imobhio enthused.
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