This Is What Will Ruin Nollywood By Chris Ihidero
We have always made films from shoestring budgets; why should that change and why should it change by being funded?
I attended an event organised by a federal ministry and a World Bank department, seeking to intimate the creative industry on how to allocate some funds they wish to disburse to the industry.
When it was my turn to speak, I suggested that they should fund the processes that will make it easier for content producers to extract full value from the value chain of production.
I stated clearly that they should not give us money to make films; rather, they should look at distribution, training and other key areas where we face challenges daily. I also said that they should be careful who they give funds to for training since training is now the new hustle in Nollywood; people now run film schools from their bedrooms.
One of Nollywood’s popular names spoke after me. This person, who is more of a film politician than a filmmaker, dismissed my submissions, referring to them as being toxic and that I was uninformed.
In his opinion, more money should be given to filmmakers to make films as the industry needs all the support it can get. In fact, according to him, he had come late to the event because he had spent the previous night facing the Project Act Nollywood panel, where he had applied to for money to make films. I laughed.
His hustle is very clear to those of us who have known him for a while. He has held every position in every guild and association possible, both local and international. An official title of some sort has always been attached to his name.
Sadly, no worthy film or creative content can be attached to his name. He isn’t alone. Many of his kind populate Nollywood today, feeding fat by peddling myths around the industry. Often, the only validation they offer is that they are industry veterans, the people who started Nollywood and therefore their opinions are sacrosanct.
Another industry veteran spoke afterwards, disagreeing with me but his points at least were well articulated, though I disagree with them. The thrust of his submission was that there was nothing wrong with funding films and also that there were young filmmakers who needed funds to make films. That’s where the problem lies.
If you are a young filmmaker who has distinguished him or herself and believes you can make a film that will return investment, you will find the money to make the film. Finding money to make a film is the least of the problems facing filmmakers around here.
We have always made films from shoestring budgets; why should that change and why should it change by being funded? Is it that we are all unaware of the fact that no single country has been able to create a truly worthy commercial filmmaking tradition from grants? What happened to the generation of Sembene Ousmane when the grants from Paris dried up?
Hollywood and Bollywood are the other two great global commercial filmmaking traditions. Both have achieved their status by seeing filmmaking first and foremost as a business. This is the tradition that Nollywood followed and through which it became a global phenomenon.
Why are we then attempting to reinvent the wheel? If you cannot risk selling your car, mortgaging your house, raising money from family and friends to make a film you hope to make money from, then I wonder what you are doing in a commercial filmmaking business.
Nollywood is structured such that you can make a film for any amount of money. Why must you make a N10m film? Why? Why not make a N1million film if that’s all you can afford and grow the business till you can have access to more money? This is how Nollywood started. This is how Nollywood has been sustained.
Let me be clear: there are films that need to be made from grants. These are films that you do not hope to make money from: Documentaries that explore our cultures and identities, films around nationhood, history etc.
I have made two short films this way, one funded by my friends and the other by UNESCO. These are films I will never sell. The first one, Big Daddy, is available on YouTube for free.
If you want to shoot a commercial feature film and you can’t sell the idea to companies or individuals who can support you, surely you shouldn’t expect that limited resources from government should be put to use for you to achieve your dream? Trust me, nobody will die just because you didn’t make your greatest-ever-liveth film.
Recently, the Federal Ministry of Finance, through the Project ACT Nollywood project, announced the names of 32 production companies whose application for funds to make films have been successful. They will get around N10million each.
Other aspects of the industry, mainly distribution and training, are being taken care off too by the project. If those 32 films are made without distribution sorted out, they too will enter the big black hole where Nigerian films go and die.
The battles that need to be fought to revitalise Nollywood are numerous and giving grants for commercial filmmaking is a distraction from the real battles; it’s the treatment of a headache while Ebola virus runs amok in the body.
I am convinced beyond doubt that grants for commercial films will ruin Nollywood. We have created a phenomenon, an enviable business model that has spurn imitation across the continent and beyond. Let us not ruin it because we have present challenges that seem insurmountable.