Once Nollywood might have meant films that were low budget and high drama and aimed mostly at a West African audience. But Nigerian cinema has evolved and this year a slew of new film-makers are tackling grittier subjects – and winning international acclaim. A roster of screenings at autumn’s Film Africa festival in London reveals directors unafraid to look at issues such as gender equality, postnatal depression, and transatlantic migration.
Nigeria’s film industry is now the second-biggest in the world, sandwiched between Bollywood (which comes first) and Hollywood. Although Nigeria releases roughly 1,000 films a year, few currently travel far beyond the continent or the African diaspora or get much global arthouse attention.
But increased visibility on platforms such as irokotv and Netflix is helping to increase international interest – as is a new generation of film-makers keen to tackle broader themes, says film industry expert Nadia Denton, who specializes in Nigerian cinema and coined the term “Beyond Nollywood” to refer to new wave films, animations and short narratives that are currently marginalized in the Nigerian film industry. “As Nollywood grows, film-makers are becoming bolder in their output and increasingly seeking international audiences,” Denton told the Guardian.
Where it once centered on simplistic tropes such as good v evil, Nollywood has evolved to take on broader issues, says director Chuko Esiri, whose debut film Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) – a tale of two Nigerians who believe their lives will be better in Europe – premiered at this year’s Berlin film festival. “Nollywood has become something of a catch-all for the Nigerian film industry, but there’s so much more to it,” said Esiri, who co-directed Eyimofe with his twin brother Arie.
“What we’re witnessing now is the birth of an industry that has hitherto been dominated by a particular type of film. Today, new Nollywood films are infinitely broader in scope and style. It is exciting to be part of a new generation of film-makers looking to carve out spaces beyond Nollywood.”