Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lagos 2060: the future is here

The question, what do you think the future will look like? Has been asked by millions of people all over the world and people have attempted to answer it. The genre of fiction called sci-fi is basically attempts by writers to answer that question. In Nigeria, a lot of people are attempting to answer that question and they are going further than just telling a story, they are also creating the scenario.

I was opportune to attend the Lagos 2060 writers workshop organised by DADA books in conjunction with Amaka Igwe’s Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies. Several other young writers braved the pouring rain to attend the event which was anchored Mr Ayo Arigbabu of DADA books and the centre fo excellence's Chris Ihidero.

The participants were mainly writers and architects who all share an interest in futuristic fiction. The conveners hoped to draw from the skills of the creative writers and the architects in creating a scenario of what Lagos will look like in 50 years, seen from different minds and ideas.

Participants came from as far as Enugu, south-eastern Nigeria.

Mr Chris Ihidero started the ball rolling with a crash course in story telling as it relates to both script writing and prose, but not before airing a song by the sweet voiced neo soul artist Contradiction titled ‘first’ , as an example of how moving a well told story, even in song can be if done right.

Right after Chris came Mr Ayo Arigbabu who showed the participants, to our delight, a futuristic five levelled ‘4th mainland bridge’ complete with solar panels, sewage treatment, office towers and residential blocks complete with green areas.

That set the tone for the deliberations of the day. Not surprisingly, as one would have expected in a gathering of creative minds, ideas started pouring in as people aired their story ideas or suggested modifications to that of others.

Like everything Nigerian, politics crept in and what the future of Nigerian politics would look like spawned some very insightful ideas. It appeared most people believed the country would have moved forward in 2060, but some stories ideas that hugged the post apocalyptic still turned up.

For fear of blowing the whistle, I can only say that in all, it was a very rewarding experience.

The anthology ‘Lagos 2060’ will be published by DADA book in 2011. It is a collection of science fiction short stories set in Lagos fifty years from now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nollywood, their Hollywood

Nollywood: What’s name got to do with it?

Growing up in the north central city of Kaduna, I had many dreams. Mostly, they came and went, replaced by something newer or more interesting. Time has probably dimmed memories of many of these childhood dreams; but I still recall some that stayed awhile longer than others like my adolescent crush on Jennifer Capriati who made me pay serious attention to tennis, a sport that was as alien to my peer group as Atilogu dance would have been to an American teenager, then there was that great plan to start a music group that would rival Boys 2 Men, But the strongest of all these, and also much more vivid, was my desire to become an actor.

Of all these desires, this latter one was the only one that seemed real, near at hand, or realisable – at least it was the only one I seriously practiced, that is if standing in front of my stepmother’s mirror, mouthing catch phrases from popular movies, can be termed ‘practice’. At that time, ‘Living In bondage’ and ‘Rattle snake’ held millions of my fellow countrymen enthralled, effectively shifting our attention from western movies and the musical Indian ones.

My dream of pursuing an acting career seemed fresh and real because unlike the Hollywood and Bollywood stars that previously graced our TV screens, the new stars the home grown movies brought to our homes looked like us and spoke English with the same sort of accents we do. The movies too, were set in cities we have either visited or heard about, and the stories they told were ones we could relate to. In summary, that could easily be our lives that scrolled past the TV screen.

Like other dreams before it, the big screen longing died, replaced by another that had lain for years under the surface – evidenced by my mad craze for anything readable and my desire to make words sing as I couple them together. This new desire later overshadowed every other one, but my interest in the Nigerian home movie industry did not falter, well not at first, not totally.

Perhaps it wasn’t the interest in books that directly killed my acting desires, I think it had more to do with how predictable the movies became and the fact that bandwagon effect became the norm – if a romance movie sells, producers rushed to shoot romance movies; if a movie with occult leaning sells, the same thing happens. The movies become boring and repetitive. Understandably, some of us went back to watching western movies, only turning back to the home grown home movie once in awhile when a very interesting movie turns up as they are want to.

Surprisingly, the Nigerian home movie industry grew, not really in quality, but in seer volume, producing a staggering 872 movies a year to become the third largest movie industry in the world. Overtaking big players like Japan and china — it has, as of 5th may 2009, overtaken Hollywood and closed the gap on India, the global leader in the number of movies produced each year, according to a new United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report.

It was a well deserved even if overblown hype, since the Nigerian movie industry had over the years endeared itself to most countries south of the Sahara and even Hollywood had to take notice.

Many western producers marvelled at the two week time frame that Nigerian producers worked with as well as the ability of the actors and actresses to work on two or three projects at a time, shuttling between different movie sets where they at times play lead roles.

That was the golden age of the Nigerian movie industry, way before the copycat name change. The stars needed to work hard and they did. Some were living the life, big cars and houses, appearing on prime time TV and whatnot. Some even became demigods, especially when it was discovered that the storylines were not selling movies anymore, when a face or several faces in combination made a movie a must watch.

Yes, because of very bad scripting production, viewers turned to some established stars that were believed to be rich enough to turn down any role they find unpalatable. All was not rosy, but the industry crawled on.

Then the name change.

Many people have asked where the name nollywood stemmed from, apparently no one really knows, someone used it somewhere and it stuck.

Without gainsaying, that name is synonymous with everything that is wrong with the Nigerian movie industry, the copycatism, the bad scripts, the hasty editing, the recycling of cast, the misrepresentation of cultural values, etc, etc. The list could go on and on, but it will serve no real purpose here.

The big players in the Nigerian movie world are apt to point out the latest misplaced giddy heights that the Nigerian movie industry occupies in the UN classifications. They think third in the world behind Bollywood and Hollywood mean they have finally arrived, but they fail to understand that they are only third in terms of production, not quality of production. They are third, but it is a very distant and lonely third, especially when countries that are at the tenth position make better movies and are better rated in terms of quality of movies, sales, distribution and earnings.

Granted, westerners invest a whole lot of man hours and capital into the movies they churn out, but who says we cannot do the same? Must we wallow in a pit filled with movies that so lack in intellectual quality they cause the viewer headaches? Not to mention how lazy scriptwriters and tight fisted producers and directors have effectively re-created our traditional values and culture. Why must our movies have kings in every nondescript village, when in the reality, kings and such are alien to the culture that those movies are supposed to portray? How many Nigerians know what an herbalist’s home looks like? Believe me it is nothing like what most of our no-research movies portray.

Nigerians have billions of stories to tell, you only need to listen for a minute, you only need to write the truth, you only need to re-enact the truth, you only need to invest in the truth, only that way can you have the next big Nigerian movie. Some are listening, some are doing it right. One only wished they did earlier than this.