The Nigerian Movie Industry (Nollywood) – The Origin (History)
By Augusta Okon
Here is an abridged version (yet richly enlightening) from one of the articles i wrote concerning this subject matter.
Film exhibition began to thrive during the Colonial era, with Glover Memorial Hall playing host to a range of memorable films viewed by “potential Nigerians”, in August 1903. However, the non-availability of proper records reflecting the title of the debut film exhibited has created a lapse in the precedent stock. Notwithstanding the lacuna, the way had been paved for the exhibition of more foreign films at the Hall and other designated venues.
The emotionally traumatizing “Master – Servant” relationship, evident in the constant assaults, batteries, intimidation, segregation, victimization, carried out by the Colonial masters on the colonized, with darkened clouds of resentment, vengeance, thirst for freedom, giving way to splattering drops of such thoughts, instinctively projected through the colonized intermittent in-subordinate actions, began to spread amongst the blacks. The British knew they had to thread with caution if they still wanted to play “god” in their lives when films such as Tales of Manhattan, Trailer horn, Tarzan series began to stir up a revolution in the hearts of Blacks across the globe.
Aware of the lethal power of insurgency which could be unleashed through the Film medium, the British out of fear for their lives and possible loss of the Queen’s sovereignty took the bull by the horn, and swiftly created a Colonial Film Censors Board (FCB) in 1933 to censor and classify films before they were released for visual consumption by the public. Following the establishment of the board, Films such as “The primitive, primitive man, Dixie, Buffalo Bill, The Keys of the Kingdom, Sleepy Town Girl were tagged ‘suitable’ to be watched, while Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Clive of India, The Isle of Forgotten Sins, House of Frankenstein were considered unsuitable for viewing.
The Censor’s body underwent a transformation process into the Federal Board of Film Censors (FBFC) from the aforementioned, and the laws from which the transformed body derived its powers ranged from the 1948 Cinematograph Laws of Nigeria, the Cinematograph Laws of 1963, to the 1963/64 Cinematograph Law and Regulations. The present National Film and Video Censors Board came into existence by virtue of decree, now Act 85 of 1993. The advent of Nigeria’s Independence (1960) and the Republican status (1963), heralded the dawn of a new era in all sectors.
“The Yoruba Travelling Theatre Group” of the 60’s and 70’s can be referred to as the “Fountain Head” of movie productions in Nigeria. The veterans with great Theatrical skills and great performances took their works beyond the stage, and dove into the sea of film productions using the Celluloid format. Notable film makers on the Roll call of Honour during the Celluloid boom era of the 70’s include Ola Balogun, Eddie Ugbomah, late Herbert Ogunde, Adeyemi Afolayan a.k.a Ade Love (father of Kunle Afolayan of the Irapada fame), Ladi Ladebo, Moses Adejumo, Adebayo Salami and Afolabi Adesanya.
The list of documented films produced during the 70’s era and transcending somewhat into the 80’s is simply astonishing and goes to show that the Movie Industry has been around much longer, contrary to the ‘1992 belief syndrome’ most have been injected with. Such works include Kongi Harvest (1971), Alpha (1972), Bull Frog in the Sun (1974), Amadi (1975), Ajani Ogun (1975), Muzik Man (1976), Bisi, Daughter of the River (1977), Ija Ominira (1978), Aiye (1979), Kadara (1980), Jaiyesimi (1980) Efunsetan Aniwura (1981), Cry Freedom (1981),Ija Orogun (1982) Owo L’Agba (1982)
The cost of producing films in that era was financially back breaking, with Nigerians further frustrating the efforts of the filmmakers by opting to watch films of occidental and oriental origin at the Cinemas and Exhibition centres, rather than the locally produced ones. The Cowboy films were exhilarating to watch while the Chinese films paraded amongst others, the Legendary “Bruce Lee” in (Lo Wei’s, The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973), The Game of Death released in 1978) who exhibited Martial Arts dexterity, obviously a fighting technique alien, yet fascinating to us at that time.
Indian films in the late 60’s and well into the 70’s paraded renowned names like Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra Singh Deol, Mumtaz, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil kapoor, Hema Malini, and produced hits such as “Bobby”, “Sholay”, “Kabhi Kabhi”, “Dharamveer”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”. Their stars displayed great acting skills against the backdrop of love themes, and ear pleasing songs coupled with synchronized dance steps, produced with sound and special effects, though incomparable with what obtains today bought over the indigenes loyalty for their movies.
Thus, the Movie Founding Fathers began to face the challenges of recouping their investments, which gradually became virtually an impossible task, an anthem they constantly rendered much to the discomfort of potential financers. They counted their losses and licked their wounds sustained in the financial battle with every film they released. The deluge of VCRS in the 80’s created a paradigm shift from the Cine to the VHS format, which made productions easier, faster and cheaper by a milestone in comparison to the former. Cinema houses and other Exhibition centres were finally shut down and the Baton of Cine film making slipped from the hands of the Founding founders as they attempted to hand over the movie baton to the next generation within the stipulated Baton Exchange Zone. The dream of becoming a re-nowned Movie Industry was shattered when the flow of the Film Relay cycle was broken.
Home Videos were produced which served as an alternative to the cinemas, and the name naturally stems from the fact that you could seat within the comfort of your home and watch the movies produced in the VHS format via your VCR. Film Makers capitalized on the gains of the Home Video concept offered, and began producing movies using the Yoruba language as the means of communication. However, the year “1992” has overtime been widely accepted as the triggering period of Home Video productions, with Ken Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage” said to be the first movie made for commercial purposes using the Igbo/English language.
The movie no doubt struck the “Movie Well”, which invoked a mass exodus of people from other spheres into the art of movie productions, having seen the opportunities that lay in the Gold mine region. Thus, did the Home Video Industry tagged “Nollywood” emerge.
The fact that “Living in Bondage” was ascribed with the honour of being the first movie made for commercial purposes and the one upon which the Home Video revolution was allegedly founded on, culminating into Nollywood, didn’t go unchallenged. Late Alade Aromire before his death, ignited a controversial fire, insisting that his and not Ken’s movie ought to have been conferred with such an honour. When confronted by a reporter on the issue he’d stated that Ken had produced over 40 Yoruba movies, and had started with “Aje N’yami”.
There had been a flourishing movie industry before he came on board, so ken couldn’t have started it.
The confusion stems from the Censors board of the day, whose hands were amputated by the Law it drew its powers from, (1963/64 Cinematograph Law and Regulations). The powers conferred on it to regulate the Industry did not extend to “Home Video”. The present National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) did not exist till 1994. On this raging issue, Late Alade Armoire produced movies such as Ekun, Omije (pts 1-3), Obirin Asiko, Ayo ni o, Adun, Orire which were released to the public between 1985 and 1991.
Ken Nnebue still insists that his movie “Living in Bondage” was the first Home Video movie made for commercial purposes. His stand on the matter is rather shaky, having prior to the production of Living in Bondage sponsored commercial movies in Yoruba language such as Ina Ote, Aje N’iyami and others. Let’s not forget the barrage of Yoruba TV dramas that were mass produced on VHS tapes and sold to the public before 1992. One can’t fail to mention the legendary Eddie Ugbomah’s movie “The Great Attempt” (1989), which would have made history as the 1st Nigerian cine movie in the video tape format to have been censored by the defunct Federal Board of Film Censors (FBFC) based on a “special concession” granted him officially by the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture at that time.
Unfortunately the strong contents projected in the movie were considered unsuitable for public viewing by the Board, hence the movie was never released. Tunde Alabi -Hundeyin’s “Iyawo Alhaji” is officially on record as the first commercial (direct to exhibition hall) video film to be censored and classified by the NFVCB in 1994 at the National Theatre, (Cinema Hall) Iganmu. Despite the controversial fire raised, the global publicity given to “Living in Bondage” over the years invariably imputed the movie into our memory banks as the flag bearer of the Home Video revolution of all times. People, irrespective of Nationality, race, gender, and tribe are confronted with challenges on a daily basis. Some of these problems are of a global nature, while others are peculiar to various societies. Movies offer people the opportunity of telling their own stories, free from alien interference.
Nigerian movie producers leveraged on this and produced movies projecting our lifestyle, culture, local fashion, burning issues, problems plaguing our society, irrespective of the choking stench of tribalism perceived in all sectors. Movies were made for the viewing pleasure of Nigerians initially, (before the mass exportation craze), with messages to inspire, motivate, reprove, and correct anomalies especially in the Political, Social systems, to eschew violence and all forms of evil.
The tactical use of the English language as the communication tool, marketing strategies and execution through the use of trailers via T.V, Posters (now banned in Lagos State), recorded a boost in sales, and expanded the viewership base beyond the shores of our Nation to countries such as Ghana, Togo, South Africa, Kenya, U.S.A and even the U.K.. Unfortunately, the movies churned out at an alarming rate were technically deficient in key areas considered as germane in the production process.
The popular “shoe string budget” tag has become synonymous with the Industry’s antecedent of making movies on extremely low budgets compared to other movie bodies in other countries, ($10- $15,000 initially), but currently stretches to $25,000, with a microscopic number of producers further stretching the seemingly financial limit to N 7,10,20 Million and more. The movies were and are still shot dominantly between 10-12 days, via Beta cam (now HDV cameras), were produced in the VHS format (now VCD & DVD), replicated in mass and sold by the Marketers who also doubled as Distributors.
Over a thousand movies were being churned out yearly by producers and utterly amazed by the staggering statistical data of movie productions, the International movie spotlight was shone on the Multi Million naira Industry “Nollywood”. The Industry’s net worth as at 2008 stood between an estimated $250 and $300 Million dollars. It is worthy of note that a Global cinema survey, conducted in 2006 by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and released sometime in May 2009, ranked Nollywood as the second largest producing movie body in the world behind Bollywood and ahead of Hollywood based on the numerical data of the movies produced.
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