This time last year, I was struggling to put together a list of my ten favorite films out of Nigerian Cinema. I had spent a whole week putting together a list, an additional week putting together the words, then my write-up got lost in the ‘annoyance’ that is Microsoft Word, and so I gave up. I’m not proud of that, but it wasn’t like 2017 had left me ecstatic enough to go through the process of writing it all again. Consequently, before I delve into my recap of Nigerian Cinema in 2018, I would like to share the final list of my favorite movies of 2017 (well, without the words):
- The Lost Café
- Slow Country
- Picture Perfect
- What Lies Within
- Meet the In-laws
If you look closely, you would notice that two of the films didn’t get released commercially on the big screen in Nigeria, (The Lost Café and Keteke), and one of them was a straight to VOD release (Meet the In-Laws) – this was necessary for a list I felt happy with, and in all honesty to complete a top ten.
If we’re keeping it 100, many folks who write about Nollywood will agree that 2017 was a let-down in terms of the quality of content released from our film industry. And like anyone who has experienced heartbreak, I trod cautiously into the year 2018; ready to try again, but guarding my expectations jealously. Best Decision Ever! The first three quarters of the year turned out to be a remix of 2017, and if no film was released after August 2018, I probably wouldn’t prepare a list of favorite movies for the year. This gives credence to the conclusion by a friend that, ‘Nollywood was releasing the leftovers of films made in the ‘spirit’ of 2017, for the majority of 2018’.
This does not mean that all the films released between January and August 2018 were horrible. It simply means that they were not enough to turn around the tide that was 2017 and the feeling it left behind. They didn’t reignite my love for the Nigerian film space. They simply felt somewhat adequate, or annoyed me deeply.
For instance, I don’t think many people thought Wedding Party 2 would be better than 1, but I don’t know if we were expecting what we eventually got. Royal Hibiscus Hotel was a slight shift for the Ebonylife crew; it was also the first time they didn’t release numbers upon numbers of how well their movie was faring or how it was breaking records. New Money had a bit of heart, but remember… 2017! Lara and the beat was probably my biggest heartache, and I skipped Merry Men altogether in line with my AY cleanse till further notice. At a point, I know I missed a few releases, but I don’t think I missed too much.
Fast forward to Sylvia, a film by Trino Studios about the phenomenon casually called ‘the spirit wife’. Beyond the disappointing two weeks it managed to show in Nigerian Cinemas, the movie was the first to ignite excitement from this Nollywood Critic. Then it seemed like Nollywood was on a mission to, ‘reclaim its time’ for the rest of 2018; Kemi Adetiba stormed the screens with King of Boys, a film I would rather compare to Isoken in terms of creative and commercial success than any other top grossing Nigerian film. The film Festivals shed light on gems like Delivery Boy, Kasala (which was later released in Cinemas in December) and Nigerian Prince (which some people feel was not worthy of its $1million budget). And December became the month that truly mattered, as about 10 different Nigerian films screened during the course of the month.
But before I delve into December and all the juice it had to offer, I would like to hit on some other highs/lows of Nollywood in 2018.
Film Festivals in Nigeria
Over the years, the film festival space in Nigeria has steadily been growing, mostly due to the hard work, passion and drive of the individuals behind the festivals. 2018 was no different enhancing the space as a good amount of collaboration took things to a new level. In an industry that comes off as quite individualistic, it was very pleasant to watch the collaboration between film, animation, comics and theatre during AFRIFF, birthing a wide range of events for a more diverse audience. The hope is that all of this continues to aid in the improved culture space and acceptance of our art in its different forms.
The success of some very deserving winners at awards shows
It’s not news that even though the AMVCAs are usually a hot mess in terms of nominations, practitioners in the industry covet the award more than the AMAAs. This is due to the perceived prestige of the AMVCAs over the AMAAs and probably the joy of climbing the AMVCA stage to pick up an award in front of millions of people tuning in to the show across Africa.
Nonetheless it was a delight to see films like Isoken shine at both awards shows amongst other deserving winners despite some of the lackluster nominations.
The first Netflix Original Film
During the year it was announced that Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut, ‘Lionheart’ had been scheduled to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). While this was significant as it was the only Nigerian film to be screened, the news that it was the only film to leave the festival with a Netflix deal was an even better ending to the TIFF journey. Congratulations poured out from every nook and cranny of the country and I daresay continent, for the exceptional feat achieved by Africa’s biggest film star Ms Genevieve Nnaji.
Personally, I really liked the film and I think it’s a fitting movie for a first Netflix Original from Nigeria.
A credible source of box office numbers.
This is probably the most exciting news for me from Nollywood and I hope to be able to use the weekly releases for some in-depth analysis over the coming years.
Tales of deceit and a lack of integrity amongst film practitioners
There are stories surrounding the making of Lionheart bordering on outright dishonesty, with the hiring and subsequent ghosting of a certain director attached to the project. Tales on credit not given on different film projects, and the strong-arming by Mama King of Boys herself.
All the above coupled with the dismissal/replacement of Filmone MD, Kene Mkparu during the year (in the midst of speculations of financial misappropriation) leaves Nollywood as a risky venture for investors.
While the film business is not entirely a bed of roses or an easy one to operate in due to its seemingly opaque framework and inadequate government support, tales like these (which tend to always spread faster than good news) are the red flags that keep investors wary. Hopefully, Nollywood keeps improving in terms of structure and transparency to boost the amount of willing investors in coming years.
The rollout of Lionheart in Cinemas
Once it was announced that Netflix acquired Lionheart, the question for most became, ‘would it still have a Cinema release date? In fact, when would it be released at all?’
Everyone was excited about the news, but more importantly, people wanted to watch the film. And so we waited. Waited for news of an elaborate Nigerian Premiere; one that was worthy of the first Nigerian Netflix Original. One that showcased the Queen of Nollywood’s directorial debut in all its splendor.
However, after the big Netflix announcement in September, we were met with silence till December when Netflix announced that Lionheart would be available on its streaming platform from Jan 4, 2019.
What did this mean? With a Netflix release date less than a month away, did it mean we wouldn’t get a Cinema release in Nigeria?
Well, it’s not really Netflix’s style to release its movies in Cinema, but c’mon! It’s the first Netflix Original from Nigeria and we deserved a grandiose debut. But what did we get?
An announcement from Genevieve’s Instagram handle that the film would indeed get a Cinema release, 5 WHOLE DAYS before the scheduled date. A subsequent report that the Cinema chains were trying to sabotage the film’s release, with specific reference made to Filmhouse Cinemas which had categorically refused to show it. In essence we were dished out a shambolic roll out.
I’m sure there’s a lot to consider, seeing it’s a Netflix Original. In fact, Roma faced a similar experience with its Cinema release for director Alfonso Cuaron. But it’s hard to totally be on Genevieve’s side. This is based solely on the fact that December 2018 was already full of film releases and was probably the toughest month of competition for Nollywood Cinema ever!! This meant that I could understand why a Cinema house would refuse to show Lionheart; especially where other films may have concluded their release dates as early as September 2018. Oh yeah and they had interests to protect, let’s not forget that part.
Whatever the case, Lionheart enjoyed a limited Cinema release, is a very enjoyable film and I’m proud to call it one of 2018’s Best. It will also hit Netflix on 4 January 2019 for those who would rather wait.
A slight lack of cohesiveness in the collaborative efforts of AFRIFF
While I already commended the collaborative effort of AFRIFF above, I must say that the week-long event turned into a barrage of clashing activities which may have dampened the overall experience for individuals hoping to enjoy said clashing programs.
As films were screening, there were some conflicting industry activities, theater activities and finally two comic events at the same time on the same day. It is expected that a big Film Festival like AFRIFF would have an eclectic set of activities to capture a diverse audience, however, some of it was a bit confusing and ended up splitting the available audience really thin.
There’s this joke amongst some film journalists I know on how exasperating the AMVCA nominees list can be on an annual basis, and 2018 was no exception. From mixing TV and Movie nominees, to missing out of deserving nominees to actually nominating a single film under drama and comedy categories, the list of nominations was just a headache.
On the other hand, the eventual winners list wasn’t as bad. At least a good number of the winners deserved to win.
Anyways, lets get back to Detty December and Nollywood’s craze for a December release.
For the last 3 years, Ebonylife Films has milked the Detty December audience of its coins by strategically releasing a ‘grand’ film to coincide with the Christmas holidays. I’m certain the studio probably has an elaborate plan of the movies it intends to release for the next few Decembers (as I would if I was in its shoes). However, (as is the case with financially successful ventures), other filmmakers are determined to crack into the Detty December audience and destroy any illusions that Ebonylife has of holding on to December as its birthright for blockbuster releases.
Accordingly, December 2018 turned into a fiasco of some sorts with as many as 10 Nollywood films battling for screen dates, screen times, and more importantly audience attention alongside Hollywood releases like Aquaman and Bumblebee. From the box office numbers released thus far, the clear winner of the lot is Aquaman, grossing almost ₦250million in the two weeks since it hit the screens. On the Nollywood side, Ebonylife may still lay claim to December, as Chief Daddy rules supreme, making more in its 3weeks of release than Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys has made in its 10weeks of release.
So what has happened to the other Nollywood releases?
Some of them struggled to make an impact right from the abysmal screen times or no of locations they were showing, thus were quick to be removed. Others are fighting the juggernaut that is Ebonylife’s marketing prowess but are lagging behind by different lengths. Nonetheless, it’s not the end of the road yet, and now that we have a more credible source for box office figures, I am eager to observe the performances of all releases and how much they are able to recover at the end of their run.
I guess depending on who you speak to, 2018 was a good year for Nollywood. It definitely showed a level of creativity that was missing from 2017, probably earned more in terms of box office receipts and ended the year with a lot of activity. It also boasted more cut throat activities than previous years as more and more films battle for the increasing audience.
I guess it’s time to sit back and see what 2019 unfolds, but before I do, I’ll be releasing the list of my favorites from Nollywood for the year 2018.
Happy New Year Everyone.