Never mind Nollywood, Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima is a one-woman industry all of her own. We first catch sight of her, a mobile phone clamped to each ear, arranging a slew of business meetings as she is driven in a blacked-out car through the choc-a streets of Lagos. Producer, director, talk-show host, founder and CEO of the African Movie Academy, which produces the continent’s equivalent of the Oscar’s each year, Peace is the embodiment of the energy which she describes as Nollywood’s driving force. It produces well over a 1000 films a year, and is Nigeria’s second largest employer (after the oil industry): in terms of sheer output, that makes it the third biggest film industry in the world.
And yet, have you ever seen a Nollywood movie? Nor have I. But I’m chomping at the bit to after watching Dorothee Wenner’s documentary, which not only gives a snapshot of the industry as it develops at lightning-pace, but asks what’s in store for the future of Nollywood, as budgets steadily creep up and annual production numbers begin to settle down. Not only Nigerians, but millions all over Africa, love Nollywood movies because they tell their stories and show characters that they recognise. The poor production values are the last thing on their mind and, as one of Wenner’s contributors, industry mogul Mahmood Ali-Balogun, comments, Nollywood gives the lie to the popularly conceived Western notion that you need buckets of cash to make a successful film (a nudge if ever there was one for any budding filmmakers to get on with it – no excuses now!).
The sheer industry and entrepreneurialism of the film’s characters is what’s most striking. No one seems content with just one area of expertise – most people Wenner interviews have at least three professions on the go – and, as demonstrated by Nollywood’s best stunt director and Faruk Sayadi’s Dollywood Studios (a special effects outfit, much of whose work seems to be carried out by Faruk’s wife, Mainunah, editing or crafting a 3D model with one hand, while cradling a baby in the other), there’s no substitute for these qualities when it comes to filmmaking.
Peace speaks of harnessing this energy to give Nollywood the chance to develop and become sustainable as the industry approaches a crossroads in its young life. This, she says, will require training to bring production values up to the level required for its films to be screened worldwide, so that a new creative dialogue with Africa can begin. In the meantime, Wenner’s film is a great place to start.
Peace Mission screens as part of our Developing Countries Focus at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. The screening is followed by a Q&A with the films protagonist, Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima, hosted by Zina Saro-Wiwa.