The Nol­ly­wood direc­tor with Amer­i­can dreams

‘Steven Spiel­berg of Nige­ria’ hopes his African films could spark in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est ‘It’s ev­ery­one’s am­bi­tion to go to Hol­ly­wood and tell an African story’

The Sunday Telegraph - - World News - By Colin Free­man unded t mer­cial. ypes n an­tic he

in Benin City

IF ALL it took to make it in the movies was a prodi­gious work rate and plenty of self-be­lief, then Lancelot Ima­suen would be as well known to­day as Steven Spiel­berg.

The 47-year-old direc­tor has made well over 200 films in just 20 years, and reck­ons his lat­est ro­mance, Love Birds, has the “great­est” on-screen chem­istry since Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio got it to­gether in Ti­tanic. Yet whether or not it lives up to his hype, the chances are that Love Birds – which is due out next week – won’t be com­ing to a cinema near you.

Its cre­ator is a house­hold name only in his na­tive Nige­ria, where he’s among thou­sands of play­ers in the ul­tra-low bud­get lo­cal film in­dus­try known as Nol­ly­wood.

Some­times churn­ing out movies in weeks or even days, Nol­ly­wood is in­fa­mous for poor pro­duc­tion val­ues, with ac­tors who learned their lines on the day. That has not stopped it be­com­ing hugely pop­u­lar across Africa, and Mr Ima­suen has aspi­ra­tions be­yond that.

“It’s ev­ery­one’s am­bi­tion to go to Hol­ly­wood and tell an African story,” he told The Sun­day Tele­graph on the set of film Dawn of a New Day. “But we’re lim­ited by fi­nance and cir­cum­stance – hope­fully those days will come.”

In­deed, they may fi­nally be just around the cor­ner – thanks to the re­cent global suc­cess of Black Pan­ther, the Dis­ney block­buster based on a Mar­vel Comics black su­per­hero.

In Nige­ria, there are hopes that it will spark a surge of in­ter­na­tional New Day, Dawn of a in­ter­est in Nol­ly­wood. The ques­tion now is whether one of its of­fer­ings can be­come the next Hol­ly­wood or Net­flix sen­sa­tion.

Direc­tors like Mr Ima­suen have the odds stacked against them. Dawn of a New Day, for ex­am­ple, has a bud­get of just 15m naira (£30,000). With pur­pose-built stu­dios nei­ther avail­able or af­ford­able, it is filmed in a sub­urb of the direc­tor’s na­tive Benin City in south­ern Nige­ria, where chick­ens and goats wan­der on to the set and there are crowds of on­look­ers, bribe-hun­gry po­lice­men, and noisy gen­er­a­tors that make sound record­ing hard.

Like most Nol­ly­wood films, Dawn of a New Day plays on ten­sions be­tween the old Africa and the new. A dom­i­neer­ing ma­tri­arch is an­gry at her daugh­ter-in-law for re­fus­ing to un­dergo the vil­lage tra­di­tion of circumcising her daugh­ter, and for fail­ing to pro­duce a son and heir. While the film has been funded by a univer­sity to warn of the dan­gers of fe­male cir­cum­ci­sion, most of Mr Ima­suen’s films are com­mer­cial.

But just as Black Pan­ther er has chal­lenged racial stereo­types in Hol­ly­wood, so Mr Ima­suen is break­ing the mould in Nol­ly­wood. His 2016 ro­man­tic com­edy ATM was one of the first by a ma­jor Nige­rian direc­tor to give star billing g to a white ac­tor, Claire Edun, a for­mer Bri­tish Air­ways host­ess from Hamps.

It is said that Nol­ly­wood be­gan in 1992, when a Nige­rian busi­ness­man im­ported a vast con­sign­ment of re­dun­dant VHS cas­settes. Un­able to sell them, he hired a movie pro­ducer to record a cheap film on them in the hope of cut­ting his losses. Liv­ing in Bondage sold 750,000 copies.

Nol­ly­wood is now worth around $500m (£350m) a year. Although some films still have a soap opera feel more se­ri­ous ef­forts have reached over­seas film fes­ti­vals.

Typ­i­cal of the slicker “New Nol­ly­wood” direc­tors dir is La­gos-born Dare Olai­tan, 27, 27 who stud­ied at film school in the US. US

His 2017 movie mov Ojukokoro (Greed)

– a Tarantino-in Tarantino-in­flu­enced crime ca­per – saw him tipped tippe lo­cally as a Hol­ly­wood break­through brea direc­tor. But it will, h he says, take more than just Black Pan­ther hype for a Nol­ly­wood Nol­lyw film to break be­yond beyo the niche. “If we’re to do d well in­ter­na­tion­ally, it will have to be as Hol­ly­wood H does it – by sell­ing se great hu­man sto­ries stor to the rest of the world.” worl

Make-up time on the set of

and ac­tress Oge Okoye, right and the film crew

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