Nollywood Babylon (2008)
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Critic Reviews for Nollywood Babylon
The little-known story of Nigeria's movie success is examined in Nollywood Babylon, a fascinating documentary by Canadians Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal.
For all its limitations, Nollywood Babylon serves as an intriguing primer.
The kicks come from some over-the-top clips and Imasuen's disarming mix of bombast and shrewdness when he appears on set or as a commentator.
Both insightful and sweeping, this doc shows how affordable filmmaking technology and evangelical Christianity has assisted Nigeria, now the third largest producer of movies, to build a fecund film industry that serves a largely impoverished and political
'Nollywood Babylon' teases, for its themes are interesting but, too many of them brought up, they do not get the incisive treatment each deserves.
Audience Reviews for Nollywood Babylon
Underwhelming. Unlike "Not Quite Hollywood" this film didn't leave me with a laundry list of movies to see. While the number of films put out by Nollywood is impressive, as the documentary says "the great Nigerian film has yet to be made." Combine that with the fact that most of the films from this industry are only available for sale in the streets of Lagos, makes this entire industry at best a foot-note of interest.
Very entertaining documentary about the Nigerian film industry and how home grown fare with little budget and amateur performers can be a draw for a public which wants anything produced in the native language. Very funny at times.
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Bollywood meets Nollywood.
Well, not really.
Specifically, an Indian director directs a film about the Nigerian film industry, known to the world as Nollywood ? the 3rd largest film industry in the world (in terms of output), behind, of course, Bollywood, in the second position.
Except Samir Mallal, the co-director of Nollywood Babylon, isn?t a Bollywood director ? rather a Canadian of Indian descent. However, I couldn?t resist making the transcontinental connection, if only for effect.
Athough Mallal, who was present for the screening and who answered audience questions afterward, was very much connected to his native country?s film industry, that his lens, while definitely seeking to edutain, didn?t insult, ridicule nor exotify its subject the way western filmmakers sometimes do when documenting foreign groups that they may deem inferior. And I was certainly relieved, because I went into the screening expecting a kind of insensitive Oyinbo (white man) gaze.
With all the recent interest in Nollywood (this being the 4th documentary on the subject in the last 2 years), I?ve noticed very little, if any, coverage on the origins of film in Nigeria which, as I learned while watching Nollywood Babylon, date back to the early days of cinema, post the infamous Berlin Conference, when much of Africa was carved up and claimed by European powers, eliminating most existing forms of self-governance throughout Africa.
Although, as the zeitgeist would have it, just about all the images of Africans on celluloid in those days were captured by their European colonizers, who saw them clearly as inferior savages.
That trend saw a shift when Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, and developed its own film industry.
Local movies thrived for several decades, but it all collapsed in the mid-1980s when Nigeria experienced an economic failure, as its currency was devalued, and oil prices plummeted.
A revival came in 1992, when a Lagos businessman, Kenneth Nnebue, produced a film, Living In Bondage, specifically to boost the sales of video cassette tapes. Completely unexpectedly, the film was a big hit, selling more than 500,000 copies on VHS tapes. Local film historians have pointed to that accidental occurrence as Nollywood?s birth.
Director Mallal recognizes the importance in giving us a history of film in Nigeria and, thus, a foundation to build on and context in which to view his film, which spends much of its time in the present, with its spotlight on Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, considered Nollywood?s current Steven Spielberg.
37-year-old Imasuen, nick-named ?Da Guvnor? for his dominating personality, has made some 156 films to date, since his debut in 1995, and Nollywood Babylon follows him as he makes his 157th, a melodrama titled Bent Arrows ? a story about incest and prostitution ? which, like other Nollywood movies, is considered of low quality (by U.S. and European standards), and usually shot in 1 to 2 weeks, with a single hand-held digital camera, and eventually released straight-to-DVD and sold at market stalls for $2 or $3 each; and that?s because Nollywood movies are not shown in movie theatres in Nigeria. There are only three functioning theaters in Lagos, a city of about 15 million people, and these theatres are dominated by foreign fare ? American, European and Asian cinema mostly. So locally made movies are watched at home, and often en masse.
And since the films are relatively cheap to produce ? Imasuen?s costs have ranged from $20,000 to $100,000 ? it?s easy for filmmakers to profit from their productions.
The documentary, which was shot over a 2-year period, includes footage of the ever-ebullient Imasuen at work, providing much of the humor and entertainment to counter the more austere talking head sequences, which include local film critics, film historians, sociologists, media personalities, and more, with the combined effect providing a rounded picture of the industry and its participants ? albeit slightly limited; after all, there?s only so much one can cover in about 90 minutes. However, I felt that I learned from the experience, considering that I was already somewhat familiar with the subject matter, and it actually gave me more to ponder ? more like a cause for pause, as I found my general pre-existing critical thoughts on Nollywood challenged to some degree.
To be sure, as the film showed, the industry does have its detractors within, as one critic stated that, despite its history and output, Nollywood still has yet to make that definitive Nigerian movie; and another critic looked forward to a time when profit wasn?t the sole motivator for the filmmakers, and a true, substantive film industry would emerge ? one that rivals Hollywood in variance and complexity of content, production and distribution.
I was thrilled to hear that an awards ceremony, the likes of the Oscars here in the States, is currently in the works in Nollywood. No ETA on when it will debut.
Imasuen wants to spread Nigerian films around the world. To do that, he?ll need investments from major international producers who, as of yet, haven?t expressed much interest. Will they? I don?t know. Should they? I say not yet. I?d like to keep as much outside influence away from Nollywood, allowing it to evolve autonomously, and find its own way ? maybe just as Bollywood did ? and, essentially, force foreign industries to deal with Nollywood on its own terms, and not the other way around, which I believe is what would happen if foreign investments in Nigerian films became prevalent.
As I watched the documentary, I wondered what a director like Imasuen would do with the average Hollywood studio budget of $60 to $70 million. The obvious answer would be that he?d likely continue making films as he has been, for $20,000 to $100,000 each, and instead just make a hell of a lot of them! However, maybe he?d instead create what one critic above called the definititve Nigerian movie.
Although, the gap in production costs between the 2 industries does make one wonder if Hollywood studio budgets are indeed prudent, or rather an unfortunate waste, and instead, Nollywood, considered inferior by much of the rest of the world, might actually be onto something worth taking note of.
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