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date: 04 April 2020

Nigeria, film in

A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell

Nigeria, film in 

The earliest recorded film screenings took place in Lagos on 12 August 1903; and in 1913 the British South Africa Company made a series of short films showing Nigerian tin mines and the countryside. In 1935 the British Colonial Office launched the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment (BEKE), producing a number of instructional health and information films (with titles such as Post Office Savings Bank, Tax, and Infant Malaria) that were taken on lorry tours of east and central Africa. Perhaps the best-known documentary film in this tradition is Daybreak in Udi (Terry Bishop, 1949), which shows life in a maternity hospital and was designed to show the progress made by the Colonial Office in implementing community projects in eastern Nigeria.

In 1959, Nigeria became the first African country to build a national television station, and following independence in 1960 the television industry provided some funding for documentary film production. Though there was little state support for domestic film production, the government did impose some censorship through the 1963 Cinematographic Act. The first Nigerian-made films include a 1970 Lebanese-Nigerian production, Son of Africa, and Kongi's Harvest (Ossie Davis, 1970), an adaptation of a story by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. Following the 1970s oil boom, the government made some gestures towards investment in film production by setting up the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Nigerian Film Corporation (established by military decree in 1979 and inaugurated in 1982). These initiatives were not altogether successful, however: no feature films were produced. However, a number of documentary films were made, including Shaihu Umar (Adamu Halilu, 1976). Outwith the umbrella of state support Nigerian filmmakers have had to be highly entrepreneurial in raising finance. A number of small film production companies emerged in the 1970s leading to the release of a handful of Nigerian films each year. Nigeria's best-known director is Ola Balogun, pioneer of some of Africa's best-loved musicals, including Ajani Ogun (1976), Musik-Man (1977), and Ija Ominira/Fight For Freedom (1978). In 1978 Balogun also directed A deusa negra/Black Goddess in Brazil. Balogun's films are adapted from traditional Yoruba theatre, a cultural form that mixes traditional song and dance, folklore and farce, often with a highly satirical edge. Films often star key players from the Yoruba theatre who are well-known to audiences from their years of touring the country: these include Duro Ladipo, Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, and Ade Folayan. The 1970s also saw attempts to cultivate a commercial cinema, with prolific filmmaker Eddie Ugbomah considered a key director.

In the 1980s film production remained fragile, being exposed to the vagaries of piracy, degraded film exhibition infrastructure, lack of state support, and corruption. However, in the 1990s, and especially since 2000, a conjunction of circumstances—cultural, religious, technological—has led to the development of a new form of ultra-low budget digital video films, with 9,000 full-length feature productions made between 1992 and 2007 (see also video). Performers are usually employed from local theatre troupes, and local performance techniques and traditions are blended with foreign film genres, including soap opera (sometimes with a Christian fundamentalist theme), crime drama, horror films, and musicals. Extremely tight production schedules (sometimes as brief as one or two days), distribution via local markets and shops, and voracious demand have led to massive success, and these video films often make more money than pirated Hollywood and Bollywood titles. Statistics vary, but it is estimated that as many as two thousand feature films are produced annually, with films generating around $286m per year for the Nigerian economy. This incredible success has led to the phenomenon being labeled Nollywood, a term which covers all low-budget digital video production in Sub-Saharan Africa. Attempts to emulate this success have led to similar trends in other African countries, most notably in Ghana. See sub-saharan africa, film in.

Further Reading:

Barrot, Pierre Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria (2008).Find this resource:

Haynes, Jonathan Nigerian Video Films (1997).Find this resource:

Larkin, Brian Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (2008).Find this resource:

Saul, Mahir and Austen, Ralph A. Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution (2010).Find this resource:

Timothy-Asobele, S.J. Yoruba Cinema of Nigeria (2003).Find this resource: