Celebrating Nollywood’s Giant Strides

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Funke-Akindele-Bello-at-AMVCA-2017

Vanessa Obioha

The Nigerian film industry has continued to grow despite the country’s economic uncertainty. According to ‘PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2017 – 2021’, the industry contributed 2.3 per cent (NGN 239 billion) to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016 and has a planned export revenue of $1billion by 2020. Its track record of improvement in both business and storytelling is a testament to the hard work that has made this possible.

As impressive as these statistics are, it is pertinent to note that the industry hasn’t always been this rosy. Nollywood’s current boom could be traced to the early 2000s when new cinema screens emerged in Nigeria. It coincided with the dwindling fortunes of fossilised VHS tapes and DVDs, which formed the pivot of the primary distribution formats. Back then, the industry faced numerous challenges, including low funding, technical deficiencies, a nonexistent structure, and piracy. The problems persisted enabled by the lack of government support and the existence of creative factions (and cliques) which made it impossible for unity.

Despite this, enterprising men and women laboured to tell Nigerian stories through film. They continued to innovate around difficulties, exploring creative ways to improve their business. Consequently, they kept the industry afloat. Today, the scene continues to expand, contributing 2.3 per cent to Nigeria’s 2016 GDP, according to the PWC report in 2017. Another United Nations report released in 2013 revealed that the nation’s film industry made N590 million annually. That number has since experienced changes, with the accelerated growth rate experienced in Nollywood attracting new sources of investment. Today, Nigerian films go to the box-office and come out with hundreds of millions of Naira in revenue and profit.

A crucial contribution to Nollywood’s current success story was made by MultiChoice. Two decades ago, the video entertainment company harnessed the potential of local filmmakers eager to tell visionary stories and established a platform named ‘New Directions’.

Directors and scriptwriters who participated in the project were equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to make the art of filmmaking a viable business. Participants of that project—including maestros like the late Amaka Igwe, Tunde Kelani and Femi Odugbemi—became masters in the field of storytelling. Through their eyes, other filmmakers gained an improved understanding of the craft and business of filmmaking. They also ramped up the numbers, creating content that drew in new audiences from all around the continent.

In 2003, the company launched Africa Magic, a dedicated entertainment channel focused on African programming with an endless stream of local TV shows and movies. It changed the game for filmmakers who were grappling with marketing and distribution challenges. Africa Magic offered a platform to showcase content. Today, MultiChoice boasts of seven Africa Magic channels that broadcast television shows, movies and general entertainment to over 50 countries in Africa through the DStv and GOtv platforms.

The expansion also made indigenous language films accessible. Africa Magic Yoruba services the movies primarily made in South-West Nigeria. Africa Magic Igbo and Hausa also meet the entertainment demands of tribal viewers from other parts of the country. On Africa Magic channels, filmmakers enjoy a wider reach, but more importantly, it tasks them to produce high-quality content.

Perhaps, the greatest contribution of MultiChoice Nigeria to the film industry is the launch of the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. Birthed in 2013, the awards recognises and celebrates film and TV talent in the industry. Prior to the launch of AMVCA, few award platforms existed. Over time, the ceremony has been referred as Nigeria’s equivalent to the Oscars because of its celebration of outstanding cinematic works. Hence, filmmakers are tasked to produce high quality films that reflect true African stories.

The submitted films are reviewed by a judging panel comprising seasoned industry practitioners. Furthermore, the awards recognises films in all forms be it features, documentaries or online shorts.

Now in its seventh edition, the AMVCA is ready for a memorable show. This year’s edition has a robust list of films that excel both in storytelling and production quality. There is the stunning visuals of ‘God Calling’ which fetched 11 nominations. There is also the sequel of Nollywood’s classic ‘Living in Bondage’ by Ramsey Nouah which also is in a tie with ‘God Calling’. The list parades younger actors such as Swanky JKA, Zainab Balogun and Timini Egbuson who will have the opportunity to win their first AMVCA.

Odugbemi who spearheaded the jury for the fourth time described this year’s selection as a perfect storm.

“Over the course of seven editions, it’s plain to see how the quality has improved; in new storytelling, cinematography, sound especially and in quality of performances. The AMVCAs is a celebration of Africa’s untold stories. The world is ready for Africa and there are many Africans in the diaspora who are longing to hear stories of their own heritage. I think we have something like a perfect storm right now. The audience is there right now and is spread across the world. Also, culturally, Africa is a place of interest.”

One of the additions to this year’s celebration is the MultiChoice Talent Factory Award that will recognise films made by the past students of the academy in each region where it has an Academy Hub. That is, East Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa. It was in 2018 that the company announced the initiative, which is similar to ‘New Directions’, only that it targets young talents whose interest lie in filmmaking.

Of the 28 categories, seven are open to the public for voting. This include the Best Actor in a Comedy (Movie/TV Series), Best Actor in a Drama (Movie/TV Series), Best Actress in a Comedy (Movie/TV Series), Best Actress in a Drama (Movie/TV Series), Best Supporting Actor (Movie/TV Series), Best Supporting Actress (Movie/TV Series), and Best Short Film or Online Video.

This gives the viewer power to determine who goes home with the coveted trophy in these categories.

Voting opened on Thursday, February 6 and closed on Saturday, March 7. The main ceremony slated for Saturday, March 14, 2020 will be hosted by media personality IK Osakioduwa and Kenyan TV and radio presenter, Amina Abdi Rabar.