In the shadow of Nollywood, independent Nigerian cinema finds its way

On the ground floor of a disused print shop, massive black curtains have been raised to transform a former industrial set in Nigeria’s popular and artsy Lagos Island district into a makeshift cinema.

In front of a giant screen, hundreds of plastic chairs are quickly occupied by a multitude of creative young people who have come to discover and foster the emergence of what they call “the new wave” Nigerian cinema.

The second edition of the S16 festival, which took place at the end of 2022 in Lagos, illustrates the new face of this generation of Nigerian directors determined to free themselves from the capitalist codes of Nollywood, the extremely powerful Nigerian film industry, which is flooding the African market. , romantic comedies and melodramatic blockbusters, while hundreds of millions of euros are in the making.

“Nollywood primarily provides entertainment for commercial purposes,” says Abba T. Makama, director and co-founder of the S16 festival. On this day, the films shown are as underground as the set: diverse, innovative, political and full of charm. Stumbling too.

“Here we want to celebrate cinema as an art, highlight the new voices of independent cinema and screen films that we are not used to seeing in theaters”, he says. It was in 2016 that Mr. Makama founded the Surreal16 collective with two other Nigerian directors, CJ Obasi and Michael Omonua.

Manifesto of the 16 rules

Disillusioned by Nollywood and the profusion of comedies and other marriage films omnipresent on screens, the collective wants to diversify production and foster a new kind of cinema. He then drew inspiration from the Dogme 95 film movement, launched by Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg who, in 1995, organized to resist the dominance of Hollywood blockbusters.

Like them, Surreal16 wrote a manifesto and issued 16 rules and guidelines that will govern their work from now on: no wedding movies, no melodrama, no stereotyped lines or characters, no religious propaganda or censorship, etc. Others cause smiles, such as the ban on shots of the famous Lagos bridge that connects the wealthy neighborhoods of Ikoyi and Lekki, which is found in almost all Nollywood films shot in the megalopolis.

“At first it was more of a joke, the idea was to highlight the standardization of films”says Abba T. Makama.

The films presented during their festival seem to have taken them at their word. Dika Ofoma’s short film “a Japa Tale” delves into the intimacy of a young couple torn between family pressures and the desire to emigrate. “This festival is a breath of fresh air, because I finally feel represented. I see myself more in these movies than in mainstream productions.”says Zee, a 23-year-old festival goer.

Not all the films shown have the same technical quality or the same budget, but here the creation wants above all to provoke a reaction, discussion. “Ixora”, for example, questions different visions of feminism and celebrates the budding love between two young people, in this highly religious country where homosexuality is criminalized.

Selected at Sundance

In the room, applause resounds at the moment of the final scene of the kiss. An unimaginable episode in a traditional cinema where the film could never have been shown without the approval of the Nigerian censorship committee.

“The community of movie lovers continues to grow in Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria”says Aderinsola Ajao, film critic and founder of Screen Out Loud, a film club that regularly screens independent films at the Alliance Française in Lagos.

In addition to cultural centers, alternative screening venues are multiplying, in bars or even in building courtyards and apartment terraces where white sheets leaning against a wall serve as a screen and act as a cinema under the stars. The community is also organizing online, streaming these movies on Youtube or creating film clubs in WhatsApp groups.

“Almost every day I discover new directors”, Ms. Ajao marvels. And now they are aware of the existence “of an audience for his film in Nigeria, but also abroad.”

In recent years, several short and feature films have been screened at internationally renowned festivals. In 2020, “Eyimofe” by the Esiri brothers, a feature film depicting the daily life of two young people trying to survive in the chaos of Lagos, was selected for the Berlinale.

This year, CJ Obasi’s “Mami Wata”, which pays tribute to the West African sea goddess, is scheduled for the 2023 Sundance festival in California. With this film shot in black and white and completely “out of the norm”your director says he wants “to offer a new look at what our cinema could be”.


Leave a Comment