Africa must learn from Nigeria's "microwave" movies

Fri Mar 6, 2009 10:12am EST
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By Katrina Manson

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - In the time it takes for a lovingly crafted art house movie to emerge as winner of the top prize at Burkina Faso's pan-African FESPACO cinema festival, Nigeria's prolific producers will already have churned out another 50 films.

They might be tales of cannibalism, sorcery and jealous girlfriends who shrink their errant boyfriends into bottles, but Nigeria's $450 million home video industry is the third biggest in the world, after America's Hollywood and India's Bollywood.

By contrast, FESPACO's filmmakers -- considered the best on the continent -- rely on dwindling donations, and scrabble for private financing and poor distribution deals amid a spate of cinema closures.

"Cinema is certainly dying," said Zimbabwean director Michael Raeburn, whose Johannesburg-set film "Triomf" is competing for Africa's equivalent of an Oscar. "South Africa is all about DVD and TV, no one makes any money from cinema."

Nigeria shot its first film, "Palaver" (Trouble), in 1904, and its home movie industry has been creating it ever since.

"It's not often talked of with respect," said Nigerian-born Chike Nwoffiah, whose first feature film "Sabar," set in California, is competing in the Diaspora category at FESPACO.

"It's "microwave' filming: push the button, wait three seconds and the film is done," he said. "Some of the directors can go from script to print in two weeks. The speed with which they make these films implies something is being sacrificed."

Even so, demand is rising. Last year "Nollywood" produced more than 2,000 films, up from 662 five years ago. Most films are produced in local languages -- Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo among them -- while English accounts for more than 40 percent.   Continued...

<p>The movie "Covenant of the Ancestors" is shot in the creeks of Sagbama near Yenagoa in the volatile Niger Delta region of Nigeria August 14, 2006. REUTERS/George Esiri</p>