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2017 Year in Review – Nollywood, A Step Forward or a Leap Backwards?

Here lie the last days of 2017. The few days I usually dedicate to my reflection of the film industry in Nigeria, popularly called Nollywood. As I sit to write, I reflect on this time last year; a time I was excited to put my thoughts to words, a time where gems like The Arbitration, 76, Green White Green had fueled some enthusiasm of what Nollywood was going to dazzle me with in the future. A time where people were buzzing about one film like that, about a wedding like this, that ended up making ₦450million abi is it ₦500million.

Last year was a good time of reflection; now can I say the same about this year?

To start off, they say the way a thing begins can give some hint about where it will end.

The year started with the noise of Wedding Party. People screaming everywhere about the ‘greatness’ of the film, even going as far as labeling it, ‘the best Nollywood film ever’. Dear Nigerians, this is where I blame you for the year we have had.

To be honest, there is a place for Wedding Party type films, and in all honesty, it was a fun watch, just like Transformers sometimes tries to be (key word tries) or if I’m going far, just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. And yes, these films make a ton of money, but you don’t see people jumping on social media calling them the best, ‘Hollywood films ever’. No. These films have a goal in mind. Excite you enough, give you a certain experience, probably throw in some tested formula and take your money. So I would assume the brains behind them are very happy that their bank accounts are smiling; hence don’t also go about giving these types of films huge undeserving accolades, do not.

I say all of the above to communicate this – Dear Nigerians, you have a lot of power. You don’t seem to know it, but you do. The film industry, especially producers and distributors, are watching what you consume, they are closely monitoring you. They see what you tweet, they observe the films you spend your money on…. They watch closely!!

So if you observe, there seems to be a conclusion in those circles that you guys are not evolved, do not like ‘complex’ films, you do not sit and watch anything mildly intelligent or if you do, you don’t enjoy it, you are just basic in your tastes and all you appreciate is comedy. That is the only reason I can fathom for the drivel of basic, over the top unintelligent comedies that made up the majority of releases in 2017. They think this is what you want!! And they may be right…. But I really hope they’re not.

So while in 2017 we have had the most Nollywood cinema releases in history (some weeks even had up to four (4) or more Nigerian films in cinema at the same time), in my humble opinion, it has been one of the poorest in terms of content. So poor, sometimes so dreadful, but so so disappointing.

Anyways, over the next few days, I hope to write about my favourite performances and movies, (maybe talk about some of the other content I consumed from the industry including short films and web series….. maybe). But I’ll start with my highs and lows from Nollywood in 2017.

Highs:

Increase in audiences going to the cinemas to watch Nigerian films.

There’s a lot of factors that have contributed to the slow and steady increase in the cinema audience for Nollywood films over the years. Some include increase in audience confidence in the films, the sheer boldness of filmmakers ambushing audiences by selling tickets in the cinemas and doing cinema runs, and ya, Wedding Party type films.

All these factors have made it a bit easier for people to actually go watch Nigerian films in the cinemas than past years, but we still have quite a way to go both in terms of attendance and availability of cinemas.

Nonetheless, this and the point below means Nollywood has had its most successful year in terms of turnover. Let’s wait and see the percentage of our GDP the revenue turns out to be.

More movies!!

I know, I just complained that most of the films were crap… it’s unfortunate. But I am actually quite glad about more films hitting the cinemas. Like seriously elated. Maybe because I have been observing for so long, it just gets me! Like there is choice! There is competition! There are more films!!!!

Government incentives.

This one is still in its infancy stage and I know a lot can still be done. In fact, I understand that a lot of film makers are still struggling to understand how they can benefit from the current incentive.

For those of you that don’t understand, the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) included elements of the film industry on the list of Pioneer Industries in 2017. This means that practitioners in the industry into film production, distribution, exhibition etc. are eligible to get pioneer exemption from taxes for a period of 3-5years. Isn’t that cool?

I believe this incentive can actually stimulate better structuring in the industry and facilitate the quest for business knowledge in filmmakers apart from just creative prowess. But I won’t go into detail here.

A few gems

In the midst of all the chaos, there were still a few gems released in the cinemas, including some special performances. I’ll leave specifics for my lists.

Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF)

Every year, I look forward to AFRIFF. I haven’t attended every version, but I’ve tried to attend as much as I can since the festival moved to Lagos.

Why do I particularly enjoy AFRIFF? It gives me an opportunity to consume some African content that is not Nigerian. It allows for some good connects and film talk. There’s some fun gatherings too, and in the midst of it all, there are usually some really nice gems. In fact there are at least two films that will appear on my list that I saw at AFRIFF that didn’t get a conventional cinema release.

Non Cinema Content

Where cinema content seemed to be falling short, web series, TV shows and other non-cinema content brought life to my screens. Shout out to NdaniTV, LowladeeTV, RedTV and AccelerateTV. And special mention to shows like King Women, This Is Us, Skinny Girl In Transit, Ndani Real Talk, Shop Talk, Our Best Friend’s Wedding.

Lows:

More movies!!

I know this came as a high, but good lord, this was also such a let-down! The over flogging of the box office success of films like 30 Days in Atlanta, A trip to Jamaica and more recently The Wedding Party ensured that more than 50 percent of the films released in Nigerian cinemas were comedies.

Unfortunately, I still believe we make some of the most uninspired comedy type films in Nigeria. But then again, the Nigerian audience has given filmmakers the ammo to continue, hence we can expect a lot more until the audience says, ‘Enough!’

The evolution of the modern mafia marketers.

One of the detriments to filmmaking in the past was the hold that marketers held on the creative aspect of the industry and decision making. Unfortunately, it appears we are back at that phase where distributors and exhibitors have usurped the role and are doing the exact same thing.

The truth is there are layers to this and business is a complicated thing. However, every industry grows from discourse and the ability to allow healthy competition without oppressive power. I just hope that creative juices are not stifled in the infancy of this industry. Cos in my opinion, we need more content that will endear the people to the industry for the long term. Make them eager for more, make them proud for our growth, and make them want to keep copies for their kids to watch. Not just random money makers for the moment that have no essence for sustainability.

Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF)

Surprise, surprise. Yes, AFRIFF appears on both ends.

As much as I look forward to AFRIFF and had an OK time at this year’s edition. I must admit that the week was a bit of a mess.

There was so much rescheduling due to unavailable films, films pulled with no explanation or warning! Very few gems compared to last year in my opinion, and some typical Nigerian bad behaviour (including some questionable award winners).

In the seventh year, AFRIFF ended up being far from perfect. Hopefully, next year’s edition is a step in the right direction and it inspires more than it dulls.

The Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards (AMVCA) and its eventual death.

For those of you that haven’t heard, word on the street is that the AMVCA’s are dead. Meaning no more!! While different reasons have been speculated, including the lack of cash, I am hoping this acts more as a break than actual life-long death.

It doesn’t help that this year’s edition was full of bull. Including a Best Writing nomination for ‘A trip to Jamaica’ – a nomination that killed the credibility of the awards in my eyes. And multiple nominations for films ‘viewers had not watched!!’ (Let’s not even talk about the fact that some of these films/performances won on audience votes, when the audience had not watched them)! Oh well…

Non cinema content…. again.

Ok, it appears most things I loved also had low moments. But there is one in particular that I would like to highlight here, all thanks to NdaniTV.

You see I love NdaniTV. I absolutely adore them. But they are badly behaved sometimes.

Most people are aware that NdaniTV had a fire incident earlier this year. Quite an unfortunate event and one that I wouldn’t wish for anyone. However, it appears NdaniTV was not entirely straight forward and word on the street is that they lost all footage of the third season of Gidi Up. Yep, rest in peace our beloved show.

While this is so sad and my condolences go to the entire team that worked on it, I believe the utter silence and the ignoring of constant questions by fans for season 3 of Gidi Up is just rude.

I guess this might have been the precursor to the utterly appalling and disappointing Lagos Big Boy. A show with almost no redeeming qualities. A show so bad it …. kai so bad. I’m sure there’s some gist to the reason for its utter uselessness but nah, this is one of those shows that should have just stayed on the hard drives.

Izu Ojukwu and Amina.

You might remember that Izu Ojukwu’s ’76 was one of my favourite films of 2016. Deservedly so.

This is one film maker who takes his time to ensure that his finished product is well cooked. But, he’s also a film maker that is about to get a not so nice reputation in my books.

Earlier this year, the trailer for his next feature film, ‘Amina’ was released with a purported release date close to the end of the year! In fact the film was touted as the closing film for AFRIFF 2017.

Fast forward to a few days before the festival and Amina is nowhere to be found. A new closing film is announced and no official statement released by any party.

A bit of research revealed that Izu was not yet satisfied with the film blah blah blah… which is OK. No filmmaker is mandated to release what he still considers unfinished.

But please, let’s not have this whole ’76 seven year drama all over again. Make the film, ensure it is ready and you are fine with it sir, then come and give us teaser and trailer and release date or what not. Do not be doing touch and go with my feelings, I don’t like it.

It just goes to say that Nollywood didn’t really shine like I was hoping it would this year. In fact it has been so hard to come up with a list of ten films I would like to call favorites. So, so hard! Hopes dashed and excitement waned, here’s wishing that the releases in 2018 don’t kill the little faith one has in our creative development and in the greatness that Nollywood has the potential to become.

Did I miss out on any highs or lows you can think about? Please share in the comments below.

2017 Year in Review – Nollywood, A Step Forward or a Leap Backwards?
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