When I first read about Nigerian directors producing hundreds of feature-length films with digital cameras, a week, and a few thousand dollars, I found the subject irresistible. Here was not only a rare positive story about Africa, but one that embodied the egalitarian promise of digital technology—anybody can make a movie. And Nollywood was virtually unknown.
When I approached the Center of Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University (where I teach) with the idea of producing a documentary film about Nollywood, the reaction was immediate. Nollywood is a perfect example of CDIA’s philosophy: embrace technology and don’t be afraid to tell stories that matter to you.
Aimee Corrigan, a young and talented photographer with a great passion for Africa, and Bob Caputo, who also teaches at CDIA, quickly signed on. Bob told me that in 30 years of covering Africa for Time and National Geographic as a writer and photographer he had never come across a story so positive and full of hope.
The three of us set out for the Nigerian capital Lagos in October 2005. Just the ride in from the airport—two hours to go a few miles in utterly snarled horn-blaring traffic, eyes aching from the smog—gave us a small taste of the conditions Nollywood directors face daily. Our admiration for their determination began at that moment.
We agreed immediately that African actors, directors, and producers should tell their own story in our film without commentary from us or other westerners. Of course, we filmed and edited the Nollywood story with our own sensibilities but our greatest hope is that the authentic voices of the Nigerian filmmakers will be heard.
Nollywood filmmakers are conscious of the responsibility they have toward their society—director Bond Emeruwa says they feel an obligation to “put a message in there.” But the production of each movie is also an adventure—overcoming hurdles unimaginable in the West, racing against an impossibly short clock.
In the end, the film we made, This Is Nollywood, is about more than a fascinating and unheralded movie industry. It’s about people surmounting obstacles to achieve their dreams.