From Nollywood to Cannes, African film-makers and shakers are revealing their diverse stories. Alecia McKenzie talks to some of the leading characters.
The beautiful people were out in force on a balmy June evening in Paris, as one of the newest film festivals in the French city opened its doors. Head-turning stars such as Omoni Oboli, young African-French professionals dressed to the max, and ultra-cool artistic types with a variety of interesting hairstyles, were all on hand for the launch of the second Nollywood Week film festival.
Serge Noukoué, a tall young man in an elegant suit, introduced the opening film in French and English. The festival, born in 2013, is Noukoué’s baby, and a resounding success at just one year old.
He did not expect it to become so popular in such a short time, but it seems that everyone has their eyes on the Nigerian film industry, or Nollywood, these days.
In Cannes, where two African films were in the official festival selection, the elephant on the beach was Nollywood. Filmmakers said that other African countries need to learn from what is happening in Nigeria, where the film industry now employs thousands of people and is the fastest growing sector of the economy, worth an estimated $5bn.
Nollywood has become the world’s second-largest film industry, after India’s Bollywood, producing more than 1,500 films each year. But experts in the movie sector stress that African directors need to avoid the danger of a single plotline – to paraphrase the title of a speech made by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – as Nollywood is not without its problems, including issues with quality and pirating.
“We all need to do what Nigeria is doing, but in our own way,” says Souleymane Cissé, a Malian director whose film Yeelen won the Jury Prize at the 1987 Cannes festival. Cissé is director of the Union of Creators and Entrepreneurs of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts of Western Africa (UCECAO), and he dismisses widespread criticism about the lack of quality in Nollywood films. “Out of quantity comes quality,” he says.
That is a sentiment with which festival director Noukoué agrees. “I’ve been watching Nollywood films for 10 years now, and every time I read something, it’s always about the quantity of films and the lack of quality,” he told New African in an interview.
“I do acknowledge that some of the films are put together very quickly and are not so great, but at the same time, I’ve been very aware that there are quality films that deserve to be seen by everybody.”
He said the idea for his festival came out of frustration with the “difficulty of having access to quality Nollywood films in France in general” and also from “hearing every year at Cannes that African cinema is dying and that African filmmakers need help”.
Noukoué said he could not understand this oft-repeated story at the world’s most prestigious film festival when across the African continent and in the Diaspora, people are watching Nollywood movies and call for more productions.
“These are the kind of things that really pushed me to start this festival because I wanted to show that the reality was different, that a lot of movies are produced and a lot of them are good films,” he added.
“For me, what is lacking is distribution, awareness, marketing and promotion, and I just wanted to contribute to African films having a better platform because many are taking strength from the Nigerian story.”