Opinion

Finally, a Mobile Way to Explore Nollywood

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Until relatively recently, making and distributing film has been an entirely physical affair. While it’s easy now to shoot, edit, and distribute a film with a single computer and camera, the simple act of developing film requires specialized equipment and resources. In a postcolonial context like Africa, this meant that local filmmakers had to ship their footage to Europe to be processed, and perhaps never returned.

A screenshot of the Afrinolly app (via afrinolly.com)

As late as the 1990s, according to Global, “Having directors but few producers, the [African film] industry was like a head without a body. With no labs in Africa, film had to be sent to France to be developed, meaning directors could not see their daily rushes. It was easier to see African films in Europe than in Africa.”

That digital technology has changed things is no surprise. The Nigerian film industry, aka “Nollywood,” overtook Hollywood in 2009 in terms of the number of films produced, and it is outdone only by Bollywood. A recent UNESCO survey noted that Nigeria produces nearly 1,000 films annually in video, while India produces over 1,200.  Hollywood — which produces over 800 films a year — still has much larger budgets, but the production numbers out of Nigeria alone are staggering.

Discoverability, on the other hand, is a challenge, especially for those living outside a land where Nollywood reigns. Indian and Chinese (including Hong Kong) cinema get some play in American theaters, but it’s rare to find a Nigerian film outside of an indie theater. Posters, articles, and trailers — the stuff that gets us talking about films in the first place — are also an uncommon sight outside of African diaspora communities.

That why it was wonder to hear about the second Afrinolly ShortFilm Competition. Positioned as a film festival for African filmmakers, it features prizes for short movies and documentaries. The site also hosts interviews with past winners and clips from their work, though I wish the films themselves were available too.

The competition is hosted by Afrinolly, an award-winning smartphone app that features African (with a focus on Nigeria) film trailers and descriptions, celebrity profiles, and popular music videos. The iPhone version, which I tested out, requires internet access and some of the icons are pixellated, but it’s easy enough to navigate and explore what’s popular at the moment. And since all of the film content is hosted on YouTube, it’s easy to share out with friends, though I do wish there were a more simple share button.

Combined with a radio show hosted on SoundCloud, the Afrinolly suite is a great example of how digital technology doesn’t just help artists streamline production but also outreach and discoverability.

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