Nigeria's Silver Screen Nollywood's Film Industry Second only to Bollywood in Scale

Guy Calaf / AG. FOCUS

By Dialika Krahe

Part 2: Low-Budget Flicks


Martin Onyemaobi is one of the kings of this world. His office in Alaba isn't a real office, but more of a tiny storage room, filled with unpackaged DVDs, stacked in packs of 100, held together with rubber bands. Onyemaobi explains how the business works and reaches for his calculator. "This is where the life of a Nigerian film begins," he says, "here, with this calculator."

The average Nollywood film costs $20,000 to make. The average Hollywood production costs about $100 million. "I read a script," says Onyemaobi, "and if I like it, I start calculating." He is wearing silvery trousers and a silvery shirt, and a golden crown adorns his business card. Onyemaobi has already financed 50 films, which he has then marketed from his small shop.

Government film subsidies are almost nonexistent in Nigeria, and if there are any subsidies, most people assume that the money never leaves the pockets of those at the top echelons of industry unions. At first, Onyemaobi borrowed money from banks and private business people, but now, he says, he has enough capital of his own. He sells up to 300,000 DVDs or videos of a single film, at 250 Naira (€1.20) apiece. "I fork out money, hire a producer and off we go," he says. His current hit, "Royal War," set among the Yoruba people, is about a girl who is supposed to be married to the Yoruba king. "50,000 copies sold in the first six months," says Onyemaobi.

Marketers like Onyemaobi produce up to 20 films a year, on paltry budgets upwards of €6,000. The films are shot with a single camera, usually in about a week's time, complete with ketchup blood, ghost tricks and low-quality computer animation. Onyemaobi leans back in his chair. The air in the room is oppressive, it smells of mud and sewage and the plaster is peeling from the walls. But none of this seems to trouble Onyemaobi, who folds his hands over his stomach and says: "I'm currently making five movies at the same time."

Gruelling Filming Sessions

Africa is a gigantic market, with 150 million people living in Nigeria alone. Nigerian films are exported to other African countries, like Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa, but also to the United States and England, and to Germany, where they are sold in African shops -- in other words, to places where they can capitalize on the nostalgia of a large African Diaspora.

A typical Nollywood film takes place in a living room. Living rooms are good. Anyone who has a living room in this country has achieved a certain level of success. When Nigerians think of prosperity, they think of glass tables, flat-screen TVs, colorful sectionals and rooms like the one in which the film "Close Shave" is currently being shot.

It's late in the afternoon and the actresses are exhausted. They seem distracted and are constantly having to repeat their scenes. Perhaps it's because they have been working for seven hours without interruption, with no time to eat or drink, or even to sit down.

Or perhaps it's because someone runs across the set every five minutes, a mobile phone rings or the generator breaks down. Or because the boy who is supposed to hold the microphone falls asleep and the crew gets drunk on Guinness and whisky during the shoot.

The story is about three aspiring female musicians who fall into the clutches of a female pimp. Power, the hope of prosperity, prostitution: These are popular subjects in Nigeria, subjects that stir the nation.

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