My article on Tunde Kelani’s new distribution model was just published in the Sunday edition of 234NEXT. To read the online version, please click here. I have also included the photo and text below:
Tunde Kelani looks to reinvent Nollywood
|By Bic Leu
December 5, 2010 12:47AM
“Let’s do that again!” is a familiar refrain on the set of Tunde Kelani’s new film, ‘Ma’ami’, starring Funke Akindele in the title role. Over the past month of shooting in Lagos and Abeokuta, ‘Ma’ami’ cast and crew have witnessed a meticulous Kelani on a quest for perfection, his directions methodically punctuated by the clapping of the slate as it records the increasing number of takes per scene.
Kelani belongs to a new set of Nigerian directors who combine well-trained professionals with the latest technology to produce high quality films that adhere to international standards. These rising directors–among them Kunle Afolayan of ‘The Figurine’ and Andy Amadi Okoroafor of the upcoming ‘Relentless’–thus challenge the stereotype of Nollywood production as a haphazard exercise in guerilla filmmaking. Kelani has distinguished himself as the most experienced of the group, as evidenced by his 1978 diploma in filmmaking from the London Film School and by his work in the 1980s as a celluloid cinematographer for Nigerian television and film productions. Since establishing Mainframe Productions in Oshodi, Lagos in 1992, Kelani has consistently released films like ‘Thunderbolt’ and ‘Saworoide’, which have become favourites in Yoruba households across Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
Kelani, however, has not yet seen the monetary rewards that such popularity promises. Pirates cut into his profits by making and selling illegal copies of his movies, often within as few as three days after each film’s release into the market. “We lost everything because of the piracy,” Kelani sighed, while lamenting the financial damages suffered after the release of ‘Arugbá’, his most recently completed work. Piracy is a common method of infringement upon the intellectual property of the entire industry, but Kelani is ahead of many of his peers in finding a solution to this problem. He has refused to release Ma’ami on VCD or DVD—a surprising move, given Nollywood’s distinction as a video film industry and given the focus of its distribution networks on home entertainment consumption. Kelani instead plans to solicit government and private sector sponsorship to fund a series of free mobile cinema screenings throughout Lagos State.
Kelani has already tested the logistics of this model by petitioning Lagos State Government to fund free screenings of ‘Arugbá’ from February to May 2009 at informal open-air venues in 57 local government and local council development areas. These events reached over 2,500 viewers. Public service announcements from the Lagos State Government were inserted at the beginning and in the middle of the film, educating viewers about environmental sanitation, tax payment, and land speculation. Kelani is not motivated by large profits; he only wants enough money to cover production expenses. His primary goal is to reach “the critical mass, the audience that I have at home.”
Kelani’s long-term plan for combating piracy will focus on revitalising cinema-going culture in Lagos. This is an imposing challenge on two fronts. Most functioning cinemas in the city are located on the Island, while the majority of Kelani’s audience lives on the Mainland. In light of Lagos’ atrocious traffic congestion, these theatres are therefore inaccessible to most would-be viewers. The high price of cinema tickets (N1,000–N1,500 per adult) compared to the relatively low price of a VCD (N100–N250 at Idumota Market on Lagos Island) makes cinema-going costs additionally prohibitive to most Lagosians.
Lagos City Cinema Project
But Kelani is optimistic. In September, he launched the Lagos City Cinema Project by submitting proposals to build small cinema houses in 10 local government areas, with the ultimate goal of building one in each of the 57 local government areas. Citing viewers’ favourable responses to the government messages inserted in the Arugbá mobile cinema screenings, Kelani markets his project as “a tool for community development” and “an easy and effective instrument of mass mobilisation at local government-level.” One local government area–Onigbongbo–has responded to the request by offering Kelani the use of its four existing viewing centers, informal screening rooms that seat 50 people each. Kelani is excited to integrate these centers into his model, and he hopes that the absence of new construction costs will enable him to lower ticket prices at this site. He even plans to create jobs by engaging area youth to work at the viewing centers.
Tunde Kelani’s efforts to reinvent the Nollywood distribution model have the capacity to effect wider economic development. In August 2010, the first job summit organised by the National Economic Management Team and sponsored by the World Bank acknowledged that the creative industries are among the most vibrant sectors in world trade and that Nigeria has not yet reached its full potential for development and export in these areas. The summit also agreed that only a comprehensive strategy could tackle the major challenges that are confronting the industry, such as piracy, low quality of production standards, as well as marketing and distribution linkages. Kelani’s progressive innovations may therefore set the standard for the rest of Nollywood and propel Nigeria toward a new role on the world economic stage.
Bic Leu is a US Fulbright Fellow researching the social impact of Nollywood at the University of Lagos. She regularly records her observations at http://www.findingnollywood.com.
*NEXT’s interview with Tunde Kelani will be published next Sunday.