Recommended reading: a great article in The Economist on Nigeria's film industry, a.k.a. Nollywood, which "churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world's second most prolific film industry after India's Bollywood." The report covers everything from the way movies are produced and consumed in a country with no traditional studios and hardly any conventional theaters…
The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema--a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. "Films are made on the run, sometimes literally," says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria's few female producers, during a shoot. "Some of the guys are hiding from the police."
All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves.
…to the reactions of Africa's cultural and political elites:
Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about "macabre scenes full of sorcery" in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the "Nigerianisation" of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to "snap its fingers the Nigerian way".
Governments can be hostile, too. Several have brought in protectionist measures, including spurious production fees. In July Ghana started demanding $1,000 from visiting actors and $5,000 from producers and directors. The Democratic Republic of Congo has tried to ban Nigerian films altogether.
And for anyone who wonders how the absence of effective copyright protection will affect the incentive to produce, Nollywood turns out to be an interesting laboratory:
It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the "mating season", before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.
The article also includes the phrase "itinerant writers trawling the market." So read the whole thing. If you're like me, it'll make you want to see a bunch of the movies -- and maybe spend a few week in Lagos watching the crews and financiers at work.