Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry reels in foreign investors

A man passes by Nigerian movie billboards at a cinema in Lagos. (File/AFP/Cristina Aldehuela)
Updated 07 July 2019

Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry reels in foreign investors

  • US giant Netflix, France’s Canal+ and China’s StarTimes are among those making moves in the globe’s second most-prolific film industry
  • Rampant piracy and the widespread circulation of unlicensed copies has eaten into profits and put off investors from increasing funding

LAGOS: Nigeria’s film industry, dubbed Nollywood, has long kept viewers entertained with tales of romance and riches, and now foreign investors are increasingly looking for a part of the action.
US giant Netflix, France’s Canal+ and China’s StarTimes are among those making moves in the globe’s second most-prolific film industry, which churns out more than 2,500 films each year and is topped only by India’s Bollywood.
At an event in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos this week potential investors from France mingled with local directors and politicians as they heard about the possibilities on offer.
“The revenues from the box office rose by 36 percent between 2017 and 2018 from $17.3 million to $23.6 million,” Chijioke Uwaegbute, an expert on the industry at PwC Nigeria, told those gathered.
“Nowhere in the world will you see this kind of opportunities and growth.”
Traditionally, Nollywood films have been low-budget productions, often shot in just a couple of days at a cost of several thousand dollars and marred by poor sound and image quality.
Rampant piracy and the widespread circulation of unlicensed copies has eaten into profits and put off investors from increasing funding.
But higher quality Nigerian-made films have in recent years been having far more impact at the box office in a nation with a potential market of almost 200 million people.
The Wedding Party and its sequel Wedding Party 2 released by director Kemi Adetiba in 2016 and 2017 generated over $2 million, beating out US blockbusters for the first time.
Following up on that success the comedy Chief Daddy by Niyi Akinmolayan brought in some $600,000 last year.
The figures remain minuscule compared to the vast sums grossed by Hollywood hits, and the Oscars are a distant dream, but increasingly upper and middle class Nigerians who can afford the tickets seem willing to pay to go see local productions.
And it is these films with higher production value that are attracting the investors from overseas.
Canal Olympia, a subsidiary of French media giant Vivendi, runs cinemas and entertainment venues across the continent and includes at least one Nollywood film in its programming each week.
The group will next year open two cinemas in Nigeria, a country with only one screen per million people where power shortages and high land-costs have made such ventures complicated.
“It is very important for us to be close to Nollywood,” Simon Minkowski, development director at Canal Olympia, told AFP.
“But beyond just distribution, there is a real appetite to produce the content made by Africans in Africa.”
Laurent Sicouri, head of acquisitions at Canal+, said he was in Lagos to “evaluate the production” of Nigerian cinema.
The chain has already upped its interest in films from the country and offers Nollywood TV to its subscribers in Francophone Africa.
While there is interest from Europe, most of the attention for directors and producers in Nigeria is focused on trying to attract Netflix.
The online entertainment provider has already acquired the rights to a string of Nollywood productions and in January released the first Netflix Nigerian original film, Lionheart by actor-director Genevieve Nnaji.
Those involved in the industry are hoping that the influx of foreign interest will help push their output to a new level.
But Serge Noukoue, founder of the Paris-based Nollywood Week film festival, warned that the industry needs to wise up to take full advantage.
“Now that Nollywood is attracting investors the Nigerians have to learn to better protect their interests so that there is not just a pure exploitation of their content,” he said.
“At the moment, they sell to Netflix and that is the end of the story.”


‘The Sky is Pink’: Priyanka Chopra disappoints, Zaira Wasim shines

Farhan Akhtar and Priyanka Chopra Jonas star in the film. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

‘The Sky is Pink’: Priyanka Chopra disappoints, Zaira Wasim shines

CHENNAI: Director Shonali Bose may well be termed the “mistress of misery.” Her characters, invariably women, have been suffering souls.

Whether it be in “Amu,” set in the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, or “Margarita with a Straw” and its story of a teenager with cerebral palsy, Bose’s protagonists have been largely unhappy.

Her latest feature, “The Sky is Pink” — unnecessarily long at 159 minutes — is based on the real-life tale of a girl who dies at an early age from complications arising out of an immune-deficiency illness. Aisha (Zaira Wasim) tells us not only her own sad story, but also that of her parents, Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar).

Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar attended "The Sky Is Pink" premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. (AFP)

When Aditi falls pregnant, she has already lost a child to the disease, but religious compulsion pushes her to go ahead. Predictably, the baby girl, Aisha, develops the same problem. The parents, who live in New Delhi, rush her to London. Since they cannot afford the treatment, which involves a bone-marrow transplant, Niren broadcasts a plea from a radio station that raises a large amount of money.

But years later, the bubbly Aisha falls seriously ill, and the effect of her decline on her brother, Ishan (Rohit Saraf), and her parents makes up rest of the plot.

“The Sky is Pink” essentially explores the way marriages fall apart after a child gets sick. But Bose weaves into this storyline several distracting features, including Ishan’s budding love affair, which is rocked every time there is crisis in Aisha's life.

Bose’s film could be compared to Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s debut, “A Son.” Set in Tunisia in 2011 after the “Jasmine Revolution,” it also deals with a couple’s turmoil after their son is shot and wounded by a sniper. Barsaoui intelligently scripts how the couple crack under the pressure and their relationship begins to totter. There is not a single scene that is at odds with the plot.

In contrast, “The Sky is Pink” digresses into marital jealousy and a string of dramatically charged moments, diluting the core theme.

Akhtar, who is an excellent actor, seems out of sorts in this setting, while Chopra Jonas fails to convey a mother’s emotional pain and seems far too dolled up to adequately portray a character in torment. In fact, the only high point is the fine acting by Wasim.