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05 Apr Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

In Nollywood, Delay Becomes Denial

Why the best Nigerian films make little profit

Stephanie Okereke went to the New York Film Academy and returned with an affected accent and Through the Glass, a movie that only a few would see. This is not because the movie was bad, but because it was too good by Nollywood standard to be made promptly available on DVD as it is usually done in Nigeria. Like The Figurine, Ije, Anchor Baby, Relentless, Tango with Me, and most of the movies in a class supposedly rescuing Nollywood from the mediocre production that it is famously synonymous with, Through the Glass was seen anywhere but at home.

This class of movies is much publicized prior to release but never made available to the mass market. After their premieres, they go to the cinemas and stay put, failing to explore in a timely fashion other options in the release window. A few months is ideal, two years is ridiculous. After the cinema window closes, it is as though the producers go on to shut the door as well, barring all those who were unable to see their works during this period. The hype about these movies makes the ache of exclusion even keener.

When they are eventually released on DVD or online, as some are, the interval is so long that the wait numbs anticipation of the potential audience, who by then would have found new obsessions. It is not that these producers have lost contact with their Aba and Idumota marketers; they are simply being protective of their precious little effort and are unwilling to let it into a pirates-infested market, and understandably so. These are ‘big budget’ movies. They have no unnecessary sequels; they come in genres—romantic comedy, thriller, terms previously exclusive to Hollywood; the titles are inventive, at least at first glance, not the barefaced adoption of foreign titles; and occasionally, they have exotic locations, cast and crew. What more?

A lot of great movies—permit the exaggeration—are now being made in Nigeria, but the producers are not eager to reach a mass audience. The upshot of this is that the new Nollywood is evolving without adequate witness― Towards Perfection and Invisibility might make a fitting title for a more scholarly version of this piece. In this setting, the implication for upcoming actors is that they never get to achieve the level of fame Saint Obi and Ramsey Noah enjoy, celebrated actors who are famous even with market women. But the producers are the bigger losers in their own game, considering the limited number of cinemas in the country.

Chineze Anyaene, the producer of Ije, in a recent interview with Vanguard newspaper, admitted she is yet to recoup money spent on the movie, and is now looking forward to online streaming and DVD sales. The movie was released to DVD in 2012, two years after the initial release. Well, she should count more on DVD sales.

Meanwhile, the film makers of the old, mediocre Nollywood are still present and active, existing parallel with the new. For them the old formula is still valid and business is thriving. They keep churning out their movies, parts one, two, and three, shunning the cinemas, and distributing through the old channel. Else, what would be the lot of Nollywood devotees across the country? Now that is a model the new, elite producer should find a way to incorporate in their scheme: defy the pirates and go for wider release as quick as possible. This is Nigeria, cinemas are not ubiquitous. Otherwise there would continue to be a demand for the often derided poorly produced movies.

Pro tem, to see a good Nollywood movie, one must be able to afford a ticket, a bag of popcorn, and all associated expenses, and on top of it must be willing to go out, or wait some years. Certainly the clips glimpsed on CNN from Jeta Amata’s Black November will be for many, the end of the story.