Nigeria’s Nollywood: seeking worldwide appeal

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LAGOS, Nigeria– The camera rolls from left to right on a dolly as the actors, all African, go through their lines, a sound operator holding a boom steady over their heads under bright studio lights.
It could be a scene from any film set but Kunle Afolayan hopes “The CEO” could drive change in Nigeria’s hugely popular and prolific movie industry, Nollywood.
“‘CEO’ represents Africa as a continent,” said the 41-year-old during a break from filming at a luxury resort outside the financial capital, Lagos.
“By virtue of the kind of story, the actors, the team and every element of the film to a large extent, embraces who we are as Africans,” he told AFP.
The film’s plot is about a telecoms firm looking to replace its boss. Five members of the company’s management are dispatched across Africa to find the best candidate.
Cast members include Benin’s Grammy award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo, as well as actors from South Africa, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Morocco.
“It’s a fairly great mix and I think it’s a mix that’s like Kunle himself,” said Moroccan television and film actress Fatym Layachi.
“(He’s) a totally Nigerian director in the sense he’s proud of being Nigerian and proud of his culture … and at the same time he’s part of something completely universal.”
Corporate Backing
With a budget of more than US$1 million (880,000 euros), “The CEO” is a far cry from the shoestring productions that characterize the bulk of Nollywood’s output.
Some cost as little as US$25,000 to make — a fraction of the US$250 million average in Hollywood — and can be turned around within a month from filming to sale.
Afolayan has secured financial backing from Air France in a first for the French carrier, which is banking on his reputation to drive up its brand in Nigeria.
The company has provided tickets for shooting to take place in Kenya, South Africa and even at Paris’ main airport, Charles De Gaulle.
Better financing, it is hoped, will change Nollywood’s image of poorly made films with wobbly cameras, poor sound and often rudimentary editing.
His ambition fits into a wider context of a greater role for Nollywood in Nigeria’s economy and recognition of its value for the country.
In April last year, Nollywood was included in Nigeria’s economic data for the first time — a sign of its growing power and influence.
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