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Welcome to Nollywood
Jamie Meltzer's documentary, Welcome To Nollywood, takes a look at how the Nigerian film industry has grown at a ridiculously fast rate to become the third largest film industry in the world. Through affordable, and usually consumer level, digital filmmaking technology movie fans from Nigeria have turned themselves into directors, turning out product intended primarily for a domestic audience at an incredibly fast and efficient rate and often times on little more than a shoestring budget.
Many of the filmmakers didn't have a formal film school education or corporate backing to coast off of, they simply picked up their cameras, got a cast and crew together and made a movie almost entirely do-it-yourself style. The results range from hilariously amateurish to surprisingly competent from film to film, resulting in an industry whose output is erratic and inconsistent in terms of quality but seemingly also generally always interesting. With approximately two thousand four hundred films coming out of Nigeria every year, there's no shortage of energy and optimism here. These guys love what they're doing, and they love how they're doing it.
Through interviews we learn about some of the key players in the industry. An interview with a director named Chico Ejira, in which the filmmaker talks about how many pictures he has made and about the Grand Touch Productions company he started (named after Touch Stone after seeing Sister Act, he tells us!) are amusing, particularly when he can't even recall the plots to specific movies that he's made because quite simply he's made so many of them. Izu Ojukwu talks about how he got into movies as a kid, built his own projector, and started charging people in the neighborhood to watch movies in his garage before deciding to make pictures himself. By figuring out how a projector worked entirely on his own, he was able to subsequently figure out how movies got made and thus his emergence as one of Nigeria's premier action film auteurs. From here we spend a fair bit of time following the cast and crew of his most epic production to date, a war film that, like Apocalypse Now goes way past its intended shooting schedule and way over budget, much to the dismay of the people working on the picture. It's almost heart wrenching at times to see how hard they work to get the picture made.
Other aspects of the documentary show how would-be actors receive stunt training at the Action Film Academy where students have firecrackers taped to their chest with only cardboard separating their bodies from the explosion in an odd attempt to mimic a gun shot. It doesn't seem very safe but no one seems even the least bit intimidated by it. Distribution and consumer trends are also covered as they relate to the industry, as we see how films are sold directly to customers in open air markets where potential buyers haggle, sometimes directly with the filmmakers, for the latest releases on VHS tape and VCD. With roughly three dozen films coming out every week, there's lots for people to chose from.
With the film industry still in its infancy, Nigeria doesn't seem to have built up the celebrity culture that America, Bollywood and Hong Kong all have, though that doesn't mean it won't happen. There are actors and actresses starting to come to some prominence in the area, many of whom are now making good livings plying their trade.
The documentary, like the films it covers, is a bit unpolished but that never takes away from it at all. If the movie has one problem it's that at only fifty-eight minutes in length it feels too short. This could have easily been feature length or longer and been just as fascinating.The DVD
Like the film's it documents, Welcome To Nollywood was shot digitally. The non-anamorphic 1.85.1 fullframe image won't blow you away but it's perfectly watchable. Some compression artifacts are noticeable throughout the film and at times it looks a little on the murky side but the image is at least generally pretty clean and color reproduction is fine. While not a particularly exciting transfer, it is at least acceptable.Sound:
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with English subtitles. There isn't much in the way of channel separation and this is, for the most part, a pretty simple and basic mix but the levels are well balanced and everything is reasonably easy to understand once you get past the accents of many of the participants (which is where the subtitles come in handy) and interviewees.Extras:
The sole extras of any substance on the disc is a commentary track with director Jamie Meltzer in which he begins by explaining how and why he got the idea to shoot this documentary in the first place. From there he goes about talking about how he put the project together and set about interviewing the various people who pop up in the film. He tells some interesting stories about his experiences here and elaborates on some of what we see in the documentary, a prime example being the aforementioned fireworks/stunt scene which he explains in a fair bit of detail on the track. Meltzer is a pretty laid back guy, very easy to listen to, and if you at all enjoyed the movie and were left wanting more, this is a good way to get just that.
Aside from that, there are some promos for other IndiePix productions, menus and chapter selection.
Funny and fascinating (and periodically even inspiring), Welcome To Nollywood shows just how accessible the tools of moviemaking have become around the world and how the Nigerian film industry has embraced the do it yourself mentality and become a major player. The presentation on the DVD isn't going to win any awards but some of the extras are pretty cool and the feature itself, while a bit on the short side, is absolutely worth seeing. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.