- Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria
Pierre Barrot edited and wrote the first half of this splendid introduction to the Nigerian video film industry. A journalist who spent four years in Lagos as audiovisual attaché to the French Embassy, he has a deep understanding of Nollywood and has assembled a strong group of collaborators—Nigerian filmmakers and (mostly African) journalists—to round out the picture, introduce an array of vigorous voices, and provide glimpses of the remarkable spread of Nollywood films across Africa. The chapters are brief, studded with illustrations, and interspersed with fourteen brief profiles of individual films. All this makes for a rapid and pleasurable reading experience. This book is a nice complement to several recent documentary films on the subject (This Is Nollywood, Welcome to Nollywood, Nollywood Babylon). Some of the elegance of the original (2005) French version of the book has been lost in translation, and a few errors have crept in, but the English edition is revised and updated to 2008.
Barrot marshals punchy facts: Nigeria produced at least 9,000 full-length feature films between 1992 and the beginning of 2007; the average budget of a Nigerian film is equal to the budget for six seconds of an average American film; the industry is said to employ 200,000 people; Nigerians are much more likely to have a video player than a refrigerator or a tap with drinking water. Barrot does not try to hide the problems with quality that result from the low budgets and very [End Page 158] tight production schedules, but he understands the virtue of production in bulk—creation of a visual and narrative culture—and pays sympathetic attention to the work of actors (a rarity in the academic literature of Nollywood), relishing strong emotional performances. He is trenchant in defining Nollywood styles, as in this profile of Hit the Street: “an hour and a half of horror and ignominy, portrayed in all its glory by Chico Ejiro, who doesn’t shy away from excessive violence, vulgarity, or bad taste. The essential thing is to grab the audience by the throat from the opening shots, and then keep up the pace” (31).
Barrot is sometimes brilliant in describing Nollywood’s relationship with and hold on its audience. Emerging from a society suffering from enormous stresses, it is an entertainment industry, promising release from everyday life, but it reproduces and magnifies those stresses, assaulting the audience with every tension and horror. In this respect it is very different from Latin American telenovelas, an opiate for the people purveyed by huge corporations: Nollywood directly faces the social problems that make life so hellish, operating with an unusual freedom of expression that arises from the structure of an industry in which “the only regulatory authority that counts is the actual consumer” (46) and films are watched in unregulated domestic spaces.