The most productive film industry in the world is not in the USA or in India, but in Nigeria. The documentary film “Peace Mission” by Dorothee Wenner depicts a view of “Nollywood” from the inside turning thereby many Africa clichés upside down. Alone the title establishes such a connection: to a modestly successful blue helmet mission in a war-torn region of the “Continent of Civil War”.
Yes, that’s the Africa we know from the news.
In contrast, Wenner’s film is about the mission of Madame Peace. Peace Aniyam-Fiberesima is a Nigerian energy bomb of an arresting spiritedness with at least one cell phone at each ear. Her task is to introduce a new dimension to entertainment: Stories for Africans by Africans. Madame Peace is a filmmaker, producer, founder and chairperson of the African Film Academy. “Nollywood”, she jokes in her own television show, “has colonised all of Africa”. In the film, this impressive personality introduces us – always laughing and making wisecracks but never without her cell phone – to directors, producers, people from distribution and actors and actresses. Moreover, many of them perform several of these functions simultaneously.
Measured by the number of films, this (since the 1990s) booming independent Nigerian film industry Nollywood is the biggest in the world. 1,500 are produced every year. Even the gigantic volume of Bollywood productions is dwarfed in contrast. Meanwhile, after the oil industry, film production is the second largest employer in the country. Productions costs are minimal in comparison to western budgets.
However, the films do not reach cinemas. On the entire continent, there currently exist just a few dozen film theatres, most of them in South Africa. In Nigeria numerous cinemas have been converted into churches. Religion plays a central role in the country, whose population is one half each Muslim and Christian. But even if a film is not about “divine spiritual healing”, the credits often include “To God be the glory”. This is because as Nollywood came into being, neither bank loans nor film sponsorship was in sight. Instead, competing churches supported the productions and together they wooed followers.
In the absence of cinemas, the films are distributed on DVDs. Nigerian “Home Videos” are in great demand in the country of around 200 million inhabitants – and increasingly all over Africa. Production takes place at great rapidity, just like the small boy in the film sliding DVDs into their jackets. Looking closely makes one dizzy. A copy can be bought for the price of a daily newspaper.
The films narrate that which moves the people. “They represent, following the long military dictatorship, the need for freedom”, believes a film critic. For example, in the film “My Life”, Ifeanyi Onyeabor films his own story in which, he as a street boy washing cars receives sympathetic help from a prostitute. Kate Henshaw, a trained microbiologist and one of Nollywood’s top actresses plays in the romantic “A Million Tears” the role of a leukaemia-patient. Aids, circumcision, domestic violence, rape, robberies: taboo themes are taken up just as action and romantic movies are popular.
And if the actors disappear in the midst of filming, one just falls back on computer animation. “Ultimately, one has to finish his film”, explains Faruk Sayadi, the Hausa-film director, in his “Dollywood Film Studio”. His wife is seated beside him, in a veil, smiling humbly, baby on her lap. But then – surprise! - she talks: about computer animation, 3 D-Effects and that “compositing is what’s most fun”. Wham, her green Ufo hurtles over the heads of pedestrians under a flyover in Lagos – and with it the current prejudices. Filming is in English, Yoruba or Ibo.
Between meetings with key Nollywood figures, the megacity Lagos moves past us to the pulsating music of Philip Scheffner. It is like the film metropolis itself: fast, modern, anarchic. Nigeria is influenced by extremes that exist side-by-side. It is no coincidence that the glamorous African Film Award Ceremony AMAA, Africa’s answer to the Oscar Awards, takes place in Bayelsa, the first area where oil was discovered. Nigeria draws 90 percent of its income from the oil in the Niger delta. Thereby, the region still remains one of the poorest in the country due to environmental pollution, traffic problems and rioting. The guests should see this to understand, feels the AMAA organiser. It is of course Peace, “the CEO”, as everyone calls her.
When Peace is not presently jet-setting around the globe to promote Nollywood, the daughter of one of the founders of the oil industry discusses new plans within the circle of her seven brothers, all clad completely in white. The African Film Academy is a foundation of her family. Peace, her brothers and all the filmmakers who have their say in “Peace Mission”, pursue a common vision of the future: “To narrate African stories through Africa’s own voice.” “Peace Mission” narrates the stories of this vision in an inspiring, lively and exceedingly intense manner.