Jun 25, 2009

CNN Story on Nollywood: Problems of Accreditation...

My post on the CNN story about Nollywood illustrates a very problematic situation that confronts African culture workers when they try to get their stories into the international news media. The author of the story, Mairi Mackay, interviewed me extensively for this story both by telephone (we spoke for close to one hour on an international call from London), and by email (read the CNN story here). Mairi Mackay sent me a list of twelve questions on various aspects of Nollywood-The Nigerian Film industry, and I responded to this by sending her a six-page, 2000-word document with detailed answers based on ongoing research I have conducted on Nollywood since 2005 when I convened and hosted the First Nollywood Convention in Los Angeles, USA. Afterwards Mairi asked me to put her in touch with a producer in Nollywood who can give her some additional information and I put her in touch with the Nollywood producer Emmanuel Isikaku.

I have had some negative experience in the past with reporters who sideline me from stories after mining me for information. I made this concern clear to Mairi and asked her to specifically credit me by name for all the information I provided for her story. However, her published story on CNN mainly attributes all the information I provided to someone else and I was mentioned in what amounted to a footnote with no attempt made to clarify my role in sourcing information for the story.

I am happy that Nollywood is gaining international visibility and that reporters are interested in covering this phenomenon. However, I think it is unconscionable for a CNN reporter to misrepresent my work and attribute it to someone else. My work in general is about the value of information derived from African interlocutors and of African cultural knowledge. I asked for credit for the information I provided to Mairi Mackay and CNN because it costs me a lot of money to put the information together. Over the past five years, I have incurred enormous expenses organizing conventions and traveling back and forth from Nigeria to conduct research on various aspects of the Nollywood phenomenon (I have made six trips in the past 18 months with another trip imminent). The information I meticulously gathered on this subject over the past five years cost me a lot of money, and I provided this information to Mairi Mackay of CNN London for free with the simple request that she credits me with the information. Obviously that request was too much to ask since she basically wrote a story that credits my information to someone else. Depriving me of credit for this information amounts to fraud since it now seems that Mairi Mackay sourced me for information under false pretenses.

The main issue here is lack of respect for African interlocutors as sources of information. There is a general idea in the West that African knowledge is free and easily accessible, and can be used without accreditation or consequences. This attitude towards African information simply has to stop if Africans will ever be able to benefit in any tangible manner from the effort they put into creating cultural knowledge and information in the first place.

I am posting below the full context of the email interview questions Mair Mackay sent to me and my responses, which can be compared with the context of her CNN article. Over the next couple of days, I will also post our email communications on my blog to show exactly our conversation on the subject of her interview and my specific request to be credited for my information. Compare the data and let me know what you think.

Nollywood Foundation on Nollywood: Responses to Mackay Mairi, CNN London

© Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, June 2009.

Q: How much does the average film cost to make? How many copies will they sell? Are films always self-funded by producers?

NF: The cost of production of Nollywood movies used to range about $10000 (ten thousand dollars each) but this cost has been rising lately. According to Emmanuel Isikaku, average cost of production varies according to the nature of the script but in general is around N3.5 million (three and half million Naira) which comes to about $25,000 (twenty-five thousand dollars).

Note that collaborative productions between Nollywood and foreign collaborators are generally higher in cost. A recently concluded titled Close Enemies produced in Los Angeles by Prince Ade Bamiro using major Nollywood stars cost $300,000 and was screened at the Nigerian Pavilion at Cannes. I am tracking a $6 million (six million dollars) proposed co-production between Nollywood and Hollywood, which will shoot later this year. For confidentiality reasons, I cannot divulge the name of the producers of this project but I know that they have already raised most of the required funds.

Q: Are the films in English? Any other languages?

NF: The primary context of filmmaking known as “Nollywood” comprises mostly English language films produced in Southern Nigeria, out of which a formal cadre of celebrities have arisen including actors like Zack Orji, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, and Fred Amata; plus directors like Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen and producers like Charles Novia, and many others. Many Nollywood actors of Igbo extraction also work within a vibrant IGBO language film industry that produces films on or about Igbo cultural concerns. This core constituency, mostly influenced by Hollywood genres, operates alongside many Nigerian local language film industries including a very vibrant YORUBA language film industry that has the oldest tradition of filmmaking in Nigeria. There is also “Kanowood” comprising of filmmakers working in the Hausa language, who are very much influenced by Bollywood. Recently, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen produced a Benin language film titled “Ebuwa”, according to the director, as a means of moving the Edo-Benin language into the arena of contemporary film discourse.

Note also that there is a very lucrative practice of films targeted specifically to religious constituencies of which Christian-themed films are quite prevalent. In this regard, Nollywood is best described as the “Nigerian Film Industry” to recognize the various tendencies and language orientations within this context of practice.

Q: Is it true that Nigerians will sometimes watch three and four films a day? So there is massive consumption of movies in the country

NF: Yes. Nollywood and other aspects of the Nigerian film industry enjoy very popular support among Nigerians and other African peoples in Africa and the African Diaspora. Nigerians watch many Nollywood movies frequently and the same practice applies even among Nigerians abroad. There is massive movie consumption in the country and a rise in the number of Video stores where these movies are sold and where they are also sometimes screened for mass audience consumption. Nollywood movies are now frequently aired on television across the continent and on some international cable channels.

Given the large population of Nigeria (circa 140 million people), there is a sustainable indigenous market for these movies and this is reflected in the overall success of Nollywood as a context of filmmaking and social life.

Q: What is different about Nollywood compared with the world's other big film industries, Hollywood and Bollywood?

NF: Film is a global mass medium. Nollywood is the first pan-African mass medium of the modern age. Hollywood is obviously the bid dog in the global film market, with Bollywood recently mounting a credible challenge to Hollywood’s dominance, at least in Asia and non-Western (South South) countries. I think what’s different about Nollywood is that it is the first film industry in the world that is completely owned and operated by Africans (or black people in general), which speaks to African concerns and afford Africans an opportunity to see themselves represented in ways that go beyond the notorious black stereotypes of Hollywood. If one surmises that the primary focus of Hollywood is visual effects (the dream machine as it were), and that Bollywood focuses on performance (the ubiquitous dance sequences of Bollywood are about pure performance), then we can say that Nollywood’s great strength lies in narrative: the medium extends the African predilection for complex narratives into the contemporary world of film. Of course, narrative is a part of all film cultures but in Nollywood, it is placed above all else. The films tell stories that use structures familiar to most Africans from their oral traditions of storytelling, which is why the films resonate with all peoples of African descent across the world.

Q: Is it true to say that in Nigeria while there is a huge culture of movie watching, there is NOT a culture of going to the cinema? Is this the same in Africa in general or a particular part of Africa or purely restricted to Nigeria?

NF: There WAS a huge culture of going to the cinema in Nigeria prior to the economic meltdown of the 1980s. Nollywood emerged precisely in response to the demise of this cinema culture and has done very well by targeting its movies directly to an audience geared toward home entertainment. There is an ongoing effort to revive the cinema chains but I don’t think this will create enough platforms for movie lovers as the home-entertainment platform Nollywood already enjoys.

Across Africa, there seems to be a new development in terms of audiences for Nollywood movies. These movies are frequently shown in video clubs and bars where people congregate to watch them. At the ongoing Los Angeles Film Festival, the Nollywood Foundation (in collaboration with South African Airways) co-hosted a film by Jean-Marie Teno titled Sacred Places (Lieux Saints). The film looked into a Burkina Faso practice of showing movies in “cine clubs”, which are basically micro-film theaters where people pay very little sums of money to watch movies. We are hearing of similar practices across Africa.

In sum, Africans are very interested in movies and in Nollywood movies in particular. The economics of everyday life means that people with limited resources find ways to create new audiences for these films and filmmakers are increasingly interested in these new audiences.

Q: How is the industry changing currently?

NF: There is a generational change going on. The first generation of Nollywood actors, directors and producers tend to be those present at the founding of the industry in the early 1990s. Younger directors, actors and producers are emerging with new ideas and new orientations, which suggests that the structure of the industry may confront rapid change soon, along with the kinds of movies made. Ancillary industries are thriving and there is a growth of celebrity culture-related economics.

The Nigerian government has recently moved aggressively to formalize the Nollywood industry, especially through the activities of the Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board led by Emeka Mba who is doing a fantastic job in this regard. Formal guilds and associations are active and very involved in global filmmaking issues worldwide (Nollywood personnel are frequent visitors to Cannes for example).

Q: How popular is Nollywood outside of Nigeria? There is talk of the industry gaining a foothold outside of Nigeria. Is this true? and if so, could you give me some examples.

NF: Nollywood is massively popular outside Nigeria and across Africa, the fame of Nollywood stars approaches mythic proportions. Nollywood films played a major role in the social and economic recovery of Liberia after its recent civil war, and the Nollywood model of filmmaking and economics is being exported to other African countries where efforts are underway to replicate its success. Nollywood films are used in some African countries to teach English (apparently, Africans learn English and French better from other African speakers due to shared grammatical and syntactic references). Finally, Nollywood is the first global pan-African film medium to cut across social, cultural, economic and national boundaries. It is enjoyed in Africa, in the Caribbean, and even in Latin America where Telenovela culture finds important correlations in Nollywood films.

The industry’s global footprint is increasingly significant. There is a major buzz about Nollywood in Hollywood where most of the people I am in contact with for my Nollywood Foundation program know of Nollywood. There are many collaborative projects emerging, with Nollywood filmmakers working in Europe and the USA. Above all, the industry is poised for significant expansion is its global audience.

Q: What are the challenges that face the industry? What is being done to try to overcome these challenges?

NF: Nollywood is a young industry, barely two decades old. Some major problems include:
• lack of credible financing for film projects
• Need for increased technical competence among filmmakers
• Need for greater government support for the industry
• Lack of credible distribution and rights management protocols
• Lack of access to international travel emerging from the constant refusal by Western embassies to grant visas to Nollywood personnel to participate in global forums.
• The repetitive nature of many Nollywood films (which is compounded by shoddy technical handling of the medium)
• PIRACY (see more on this below).

Q: Nollywood producer Lancelot talks about being invited to come to Hollywood to direct a movie in 2006 called Close Enemies. A Hollywood producer wanted to experiment with Nollywood in Hollywood. Was that a success? Are there other examples of this crossover?

NF: The production of Close Enemies is a first of such collaborations and it was successfully completed. The movie screened in the Nigerian pavilion at Cannes this year. I am tracking many new projects of this nature but cannot divulge information about them.

Q: Has the global financial downturn affected Nollywood?

NF: Yes. The existing anemic financing of Nollywood films has been further reduced which means that many films are not being made. This has the impact of sidelining work in the industry. However, Nollywood personnel are optimistic this situation will soon improve.

Q: How much of an issue is piracy? What is the Nigerian government doing to solve this problem? What are producers doing to solve these problems?

NF: Piracy is a global issue for all industries and Nollywood is not exempt though it is seriously affected. In fact, Piracy robs Nollywood of close to 50% of its profits. Nollywood movies are freely pirated and sold, even on the streets of Lagos. During my most recent trip in March, I noticed a new format for pirated movies that uses video compression digital technology to compress 5-20 movies (both Nollywood and Hollywood movies) into one single disc that is then sold on the streets for very little sums. This new development in piracy has the potential to kill off the industry completely.

The Nigerian government is unfortunately not capable of solving any problems for Nollywood, mainly because they won’t enforce existing laws. In a country where the government cannot even guarantee a steady power supply, I’m afraid people no longer look to the government for any solutions. Nevertheless, the government has great power and in cases where relevant ministries are staffed by ethical administrators, credible efforts can be made to curb piracy and other social ills. In this regard, the able administrator of the Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board (NFCVB), Mr. Emeka Mba, deserves great commendation for his ongoing efforts to attend to piracy and other ills that plague Nollywood.

Q: In 10 years where would you hope to see the industry?

NF: Hopefully doing very well and with a significant global footprint. The Nollywood Foundation was set up precisely to assist Nollywood create global awareness and direct attention and resources to its endeavors. We are however worried about the Nigerian penchant for being disorganized. You need a basic level of structure to profit from the global economy, actualize the promise of one’s products and above all, manage ancillary benefits arising from such products and commodities. Right now, the Nollywood Foundation thinks that in 10 years, Nollywood can become a major player in the global film industry. It represents a very clear example of an industry developing mainly through the model of the free market. Since the industry emerged IN SPITE of acute social and economic problems in Nigeria, one is wary of recommending the usual solutions to its problems. Nollywood will survive and as it grows, needed structures will develop and enable further growth. I think its future is very bright (no pun intended).

CNN Report on Nollywood cites Nollywod Foundation

The following report on CNN cites the Nollywood Foundation:

Nollywood loses half of film profits to piracy, say producers
by Mairi Mackay

Nigeria's huge film industry, Nollywood may have overtaken Hollywood as the world's second largest producer of films, but piracy is threatening to cut the industry off in its prime. Nollywood insiders estimate that up to 50 percent of the industry's profits are currently being lost to Nigeria's endemic piracy and corruption problems...

Jun 23, 2009

4th Nollywood Foundation Convention 2009

The 4th Nollywood Foundation Convention 2009 took place last weekend in Los Angeles and was a very successful event. Held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Nollywood Convention has Actor Celebrity Hakeem Kae-Kazim as its special guest of honor and was attended by a large number of Hollywood celebrities. The Nollywood Convention, in collaboration with South African airways, also hosted a film (Jean-Marie Teno's Sacred Spaces) for the Los Angeles Film Festival. Teno's film, which played as a documentary, reflects on the development of new audiences for African cinema in Ouagadogou (Burkina Faso) as an investigation into the director's engagement with African cinema in general. Click here for pictures from the event and to join the Nollywood Foundation.

Below, some pictures from the event. From top:
Caroline Chikezie with special guest of honor Hakeem Kae-Kazim
Bill Wynn (center) with friends
Rob Aft and Jennifer Frederick
With my wife, Nancy Ogbechie
Hakeem-Kae Kazim with Raz Adoti and host.

Jun 13, 2009

Obituary: Luke Winthrop Cole (1962-2009)

The New York Times reports:
Luke Cole, Court Advocate for Minorities, Dies at 46
Published: June 10, 2009

Luke Cole, an early leader of the environmental justice movement, which holds that many minority neighborhoods have become toxic dumping grounds because their residents are poor and powerless, died Saturday in Uganda. He was 46 and lived in San Francisco.
Mr. Cole was killed in a head-on traffic accident when a truck veered across the road, his father, Herbert Cole, said. His wife, Nancy Shelby, was seriously injured. The couple was on vacation... (read the full story here).

Rarely does personal tragedy of this magnitude strike us in life. Luke Cole was the son of my mentor and predecessor in the art history position at the University of California Santa Barbara--Prof. Herbert M. Cole. It is unfortunate he died in a traffic accident in Uganda while on vacation, thus bringing to a close a life spent fighting for the rights of minorities and underprivileged voices in the global political system. His wife was seriously injured in the accident and my prayers are for her full recovery and for his son who has to deal with this unforeseen trauma. May Luke's soul rest in peace.

Image © New York Times.

Jun 9, 2009

HAKEEM KAE-KAZIM is Guest of Honor at NF Convention 2009

Acclaimed Actor Celebrity HAKEEM KAE-KAZIM is the GUEST OF HONOR for the Nollywood Foundation Convention 2009. Classically trained in the UK, Hakeem came to prominence sharing the stage with acclaimed actors like Brian Cox in ‘King Lear’ and Sir Ian McKellan in “Richard III” for the Royal National Theatre. He made a successful transition to British television with leading roles in “Trial and Retribution”, “The Bill”, “Grange Hill”, “Ellington” and distinguished himself in the title role of ‘”Julius Caesar” for the BBC. Hakeem then settled in South Africa where his work in film and television gave him a huge
following and made him a household name. It was while in South Africa that Hakeem gained international attention for his role in the Oscar nominated, critically acclaimed “Hotel Rwanda” with Don Cheadle.

Since moving to Los Angeles with his wife and 2 children, Hakeem has shared his talent with millions of viewers on “Lost”, “Pirates of the Caribbean 3″, “Cane” with Jimmy Smits, “Law & Order: SVU” with Mariska Hargitay, “The Triangle” with Sam Neill and “The Librarian” with Gabrielle Anwar. Hakeem is often recognized for his recurring role as Dubaki on “24’s” Season 7, and in the prequel movie “Redemption”. Both are
currently being shown in the UK.

In the Blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean III” Hakeem played a pirate lord alongside such greats as Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.

Recently Hakeem filmed the motion picture “The 4th Kind” with Milla Jovovich, “Wolverine” with Hugh Jackman and DARFUR “Janjaweed” with Billy Zane.

Contact: Catherine Lyn Scott at London Flair PR
Tel: 323 848 4087
Email: cls@londonflairpr.com
Website: www.londonflairpr.com


NOLLYWOOD FOUNDATION AND the 2009 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL (LAFF) are proud to invite you to the following screenings hosted by the Nollywood Foundation and South African Airways in collaboration with the Los Angeles Film Festival:

France/Cameroon | DIR Jean-Marie Téno
CAST: Nanema Boubakar, Jules Cesar Bamouni, Abbo Idrissa Ouedraogo

Tracing a lineage from the West African traditional djembe drum to makeshift cine-clubs in Ouagadougou where patrons pay a dime to watch Jackie Chan DVDs, this film celebrates community and cinema in equal measure.

Time: Sunday, June 21, 2009, 4:30 PM, The Landmark Theater #4
Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 9:45 PM, The Landmark Theater #4

Tickets: $12

Venue: The Landmark Theater 10850 West Pico Blvd. at Westwood Blvd. Los Angeles

Nollywood Foundation Convention 2009

All is set for the 2009 Nollywood Foundation Convention, which is scheduled to hold June 19-21 at the Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood in close proximity to Film Independent's 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.

The theme of the Nollywood Foundation Convention 2009 is: Monetizing Nollywood Media: Making the Most of Existing Content. Its goal is to foster initiatives on how best to market existing Nollywood media within the growing global market for media content. The convention brings together Nollywood filmmakers, academics, and media industry specialists to discuss how to add value to existing Nollywood media and extend its capability for use as a global resource for educational content on Nigerian and African film.

The Nigerian film industry has grown rapidly to become one of the largest film producing industries in the world. The Nollywood Foundation, Inc. (NF), a 501(c)(3) organization, aims to bring Nigerian films and culture to an international audience, to serve as a forum for new ideas and contexts, and to encourage Nigerian cultural development projects in film and new media. The Nollywood Foundation is a collaborating partner of Film Independent, organizers of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), for the 2009 Nollywood Foundation Convention in Los Angeles.

During this convention, the Nollywood Foundation, in collaboration with South African Airlines, will host a film for the LAFF titled SACRED PLACES, directed by the Cameroonian director Jean-Marie Téno. See the announcement here.

Shell Agrees To Pay $15.5M In Landmark Human Rights Case

The following important announcement, culled from the Huffington Post, cross-posted from the Associated Press:

Nigeria: Shell Agrees To Pay $15.5M In Landmark Human Rights Case
Chris Kahn

NEW YORK — Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement Monday to end a lawsuit alleging that the oil giant was complicit in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria's former military regime.

Shell, which continues to operate in Nigeria, said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in hopes of aiding the "process of reconciliation." But Europe's largest oil company acknowledged no wrongdoing in the 1995 hanging deaths of six people, including poet Saro-Wiwa...
(read the full article here).

Jun 1, 2009

Race and Representation

From the Associated Press, an interesting news item concerning the common incidence of hoaxes that accuse black men of crimes committed by other people:

Another 'black man did it' hoax sparks outrage
By Jesse Washington, Ap National Writer

PHILADELPHIA – It's an old lie, claiming that "The Black Man Did It".

But it still worked last week when a white mother from suburban Philadelphia said two black men snatched her and her 9-year-old daughter from their SUV and abducted them in the trunk of a black Cadillac.

Blacks across the country were outraged after Bonnie Sweeten was found in a luxury hotel at Disney World. Authorities quickly unraveled the hoax, but not before an Amber Alert, frantic searches and national news coverage that played into images of marauding black men. (Read full story here)