Welcome to Nollywood, a documentary on the Nigerian film industry, just now popped up on video, after I'd seen it at the Alamo last year. The doc itself is hardly the smoothest film you'll ever see, which is fine. It goes hand in hand with the movies that it chronicles. The DTV direct to video movies that dominate the Nigerian market---and the film explains the dominance due to crime and other problems in keeping actual theaters open---aren't made for export. Nigeria itself is a large enough market to keep the industry alive without having to bow to the western market at all. This obviously is also true of Bollywood now and of Hong Kong cinema back in its 70s-80s heyday. The clips here--and the main reason to rent Welcome to Nollywood is for the clips--show over the top comedies (like the Baby Police trailer above), and unabashed melodramas, firmly grounded in Christian ethics. Not too far from the old touring shows you'd see here when I was growing up, Tyler Perry's plays being the most well known examples. The documentary is framed by the making of a picture, shot on what looks like mid 1990s Sony camcorders, handheld, making it up as you go guerilla filmmaking. One week, one movie, put it out on the streets and get on to the next one.
Nollywood also highlights a tension between these made-for-the-people DTVs and the desire of some university elites for a deeper, more artistic national cinema, an idea not uncommon here--again with Tyler Perry as a flashpoint in the African American community, but back in the Blacksploitation 70s, remember, the NAACP also used to denounce a lot of those Max Julien/Pam Grier pictures. (And the same tension drives Not Quite Hollywood, the must see doc from 2008 on Australian trash cinema.) The high/low debate will never die, apparently.
Unlike Not Quite Hollywood, Welcome to Nollywood doesn't offer the viewer any sort of primer in terms of where to start if you wanted to watch some of these Nigerian films. To be fair, unless you live in an area with a Nigerian population that is importing them (I remember heading to a sketchy little grocery store in the early 90's that had bootleg videos from Hong Kong.) not sure how you'd get your hands on them anyway except to play around on YouTube for clips. So there is still some work to be done for someone to begin to offer the best of these pictures to a western audience, but for now Welcome to Nollywood worked as a basic intro to an unknown cinema.