The African Diaspora International Film Festival 2012 holding this November at the at Peter Jay Sharp Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space, New York will witness the New York premiere of Doctor Bello a Tony Abulu film. This movie which had earlier premiered to a global audience on 27th September at the John F Kennedy center for Performance Arts Washington DC is a transcontinental movie, produced by Black Ivory Communications and featuring a mixture of popular Nollywood and Hollywood stars like Isaiah Washington, Jimmy Jean Louis, Genevieve Nnaji and Vivica A. Fox.
Set in Nigeria and the United states, the movie is the first beneficiary of the $200m intervention fund for Nollywood announced by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. A synopsis published in a pre-premier piece in the New York Times highlights that;
…the film is about an African-American cancer specialist in New York, Dr. Michael Durant, who tries to save a young patient by seeking the help of an uncertified Nigerian doctor — Dr. Bello — an immigrant living in Brooklyn. Under the cover of night Bello slips the patient a secret African potion, helping him recover. But Durant’s solution is discovered, and he is suspended by his hospital while Bello is imprisoned for medical malpractice.
Soon, however, Bello himself falls critically ill, and it falls to Durant to save him by locating the secret elixir, which is found only in the “Garden of Life” on a mountain range in Nigeria.
Doctor Bello in many ways signifies the gradual but steady evolution of the Nigerian Movie industry popularly known as Nollywood and its transcendence into global reckoning.
This million dollar movie industry bears testimony to the ability of Africans to create something out of nothing. From an almost
obscure beginning, the industry is today the world’s third-largest filmmaking industry producing more than 1,000 titles every year and trailing only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenue.
There have been efforts to document the history of this booming industry with references made to the works of Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde in the 1960s, the boom in Cinema culture following the oil boom in the 70’s and increased TV soap productions in the 80’s. However, many point to the 1992 release of the movie “Living in Bondage” an Igbo film about a businessman whose dealings with a money cult result in the death of his wife, as the industry’s first blockbuster and perhaps the beginning of what has today come to be known worldwide as Nollywood. Since Living in Bondage, thousands of movies have been released and with them has come a generation of actors and actresses as well as directors, script writers, cinematographers, customers etc who have not only found well-paying jobs and a platform to express their creative abilities but have also achieved fame and become celebrities and role models to a generation of young Africans.
Basic infrastructure such as power might be a real challenge in Nigeria but Nigerians are equally endowed with unlimited creative energy that has seen them becomes the world’s most prolific movie producers. On a continent where economies usually depend on extracting natural resources or on handouts from the West, Nollywood is a breath of fresh air and one which represents one of the many reasons for Africans to be proud which Coca-Cola celebrates. The contribution of the industry to the socio-economic development of the country has been overwhelming. The industry has, by recent estimates, created over one million jobs – directly and indirectly and generated a minimum of $500m in revenues annually. Walls around Lagos and every major city are plastered with posters reading announcing new movie releases or “Actors/Actresses Wanted. Many young men run movie rental kiosks. Nollywood stars are everywhere, from billboards to glossy tabloids filled with pictures of red-carpet events and also many awards ceremonies have sprung up around the industry creating new streams of investment and income for many.
It is instructive to highlight here that much of the achievements of this industry has happened with very little government assistance. The industry was built by the sheer creativity, resilience and dedication of the industry players and their financiers usually private individuals looking to cash in on some quick returns.
In recognition of the role Nollywood had played in the socio-economic development of the country and as an effort to improve the quality of the movies produced, President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, pledged to create a $200 million loan fund to help finance film projects. Mr Tony Abulu a Nigerian who lives in Harlem, was chosen as the first recipient of the fund’s first loan, of $250,000 and the movie Doctor Bello is the product of that effort.
There is no doubt that there is a huge room for improvement. A chunk of the movies are horridly put together , poorly scripted and in need of better post production edits but there is equally no doubt that the Nigerian film industry is on the right path towards enhancing sustainable growth and development. The first Nollywood films were produced with traditional analog video, such as Betacam SP, but today a majority of the movies are produced using digital video technology and attracting world class crew members. Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi writing recently from the location of the shooting into a movie of the bestselling novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” written by award winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie brings to fore what is possible right here on our shores.
First, the movie was being shot (with a world class crew) at Tinapa Film Studio an ultra-modern studio built by the Donald Duke government in Cross River State. The cast was star studded comprising Britons and Nigerians: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, American Gangster, 2012, Salt); Thandie Newton (Mission: Impossible II, Crash, The Pursuit of Happiness, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, For Colored Girls); Joseph Mawle (Women in Love, Game of Thrones); John Boyega (Attack the Block); Nigerian singer and actress Onyeka Onwenu, and Nollywood stars Genevieve Nnaji (described by Oprah Winfrey as Africa’s Julia Roberts) and Zack Orji. And even more heartwarming, it was directed by a Nigerian, Biyi Bandele.
Inspired by the successes of Nollywood, similar industries have sprung up over the years in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and all across Africa.
This creative expression by our people which has created jobs, provided entertainment and placed us in global reckoning is indeed one of the billion reason to believe in Africa.