Bad (Ass) Movies Done Right – Nollywood Babylon

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Finally, the answer to where all that money being scammed via e-mail goes!

I’m not exactly an expert on other cultures — heck, I’m barely knowledgeable about my own.

Before watching Nollywood Babylon, a documentary directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, if somebody said the name Nigeria, my mind would instantly go to one of either two things: E-mail scams or those villainous cannibals from District 9.

Now, thanks to Addelman and Mallal’s fantastic film, I now have something else to connect with my limited knowledge of Nigerian culture — bad movies!

Lagos, Nigeria is the third largest producer of films in the world; almost 2,500 movies are made and sold a year — most of them produced for less than $15,000. Nollywood Babylon explores the thriving film business in Nigeria and the dueling ideologies that use the country’s film industry to wage cultural war.

Theaters are a rare sight in Nigeria as most movies are purchased from street vendors and seen at home; with some Nigerians watching two to three films a day. Nollywood, the name adopted by the Nigerian film industry, is almost 100 percent a byproduct of the streets. Films are made on and about the street markets of Lagos — the city where most of the films are also sold.

To capitalize on their country’s hunger for entertainment, a group of gung-ho guerrilla filmmakers have turned what almost was a dying art form in a country stricken by poverty into a highly successful industry. While foreign films used to make up the majority of movies seen in Nigeria, now homegrown independently shot movies overwhelm street markets and turn local filmmakers into stars.

Nollywood films range in subjects of all sorts — from evangelical ministries detailing the evils of witchcraft and voodoo (subjects still widely believed by Nigerian people) to action comedies starring a pair of midgets named Aki and Paw-Paw. The film explores two clashing ideas of what Nigerian film-making should aspire to.

The star of Nollywood Babylon is Lancelot Idowu Imasuen, a 36-year-old filmmaker with 150 films to his credit. Lancelot represents the new face of Nollywood — where commercially successful films are churned out as fast as possible with little to no regards to a mastery of story or production values.

This attitude clashes with the older group of Nigerian filmmakers who were the forbearers to what would become Nollywood. Raised on western movies, the older generation strived for quality over quantity. Now, they see Nollywood as being assimilated by the growing Christian evangelical movement in the country.

It seems many Nollywood films are used as a form of ministry, exposing the “truth” behind the rampant evils of witchcraft and demons that so many Nigerians still believe in and fear.

Even when films aren’t produced by a religious organization, they often use voodoo as a form of horror — much in the same way American films use knife-wielding slashers.

Addelman and Mallall do a fantastic job of providing a history for a country’s film industry — a movement that was born out of western directors coming to Africa to make movies that oftentimes featured blacks as evil caricatures.

The history lesson is deftly balanced with footage from Lancelot’s own current production, Bent Arrows. Lancelot’s production, which heavily uses the same type of on-the-fly tactics that propelled a generation of American filmmakers into indie godhood, is a truly balls-to-the-wall effort in making a film on a shoestring budget.

Nollywood Babylon is recommended viewing for all. It will either educate you on a film industry that, in the west, is largely unknown or will inspire you with a country’s dedication to creating their a cultural heritage.

Nigerian movies may not be good but at least they’re their own.

Robert Saucedo has a suggestion to all aspiring filmmakers: Move to Nigeria. If you have even an iota of talent, there is a good chance you could be a huge hit in the country. Just as long as you don’t get killed by witches. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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