In Lagos, a free film school Nollywood wants to internationalize

Wearing a Spielberg cap, student director Esther Abah gives her final instructions to her actress and returns to the monitor. In the studios of the EbonyLife Creative Academy, a brand new film school in Lagos, the team of about thirty students is “ready to shoot”.

In this faux velvet confessional they film their short film “My father forgive me”. “3. 2. 1. Action!” the young director launches, while, on the advice of a professor, the sound engineer adjusts her thump.

Esther Abah is 30 and has already made several short films and music videos in Nigeria. But by integrating the school, “she wanted to learn how to make movies with a different perspective,” she told AFP.

Located in Lagos, the vibrant cultural capital of Nigeria and all of West Africa, this academy aims to train young professionals from Nollywood, the very powerful Nigerian film industry, to make films that can be exported outside the African continent.

A rarity in the country, training is free and fully funded by Lagos State, which has understood that its creative and ambitious young people are a real wealth, and huge potential job offer if the sector is better monitored.

“We want our students to be able to tell Nigerian stories to an international audience, in a format that is accessible to the whole world,” school principal Theart Korsten told AFP.

All cinema professions are represented – directing, acting, production, screenplay, sound, artistic direction… – and all teachers are Nigerian, South African or Kenyan, with international experience.

– Golden youth and glitter –

Until recently, Nollywood, which produces more than 2,500 films a year, has not been actively trying to conquer the global market, with Nigeria’s 215 million inhabitants and huge cultural influence on the continent.

Since the rise of Nollywood in the 1980s, the vast majority of Nigerian directors have made their films in a matter of weeks for less than $20,000. Films “financed in Nigeria and produced for a Nigerian audience,” says Alessandro Jedlowski, anthropologist specializing in Nollywood at Sciences-po Bordeaux.

But in the early 2010s, faced with massive piracy that was destroying the industry’s economic model, some distributors gradually moved towards a “more formalized market”. It is also the arrival of satellite channels, new cinemas… and above all paid streaming.

They then target the Nigerian elite and the wealthier African diaspora, explains Mr. Jedlowski out. Budgets are increasing and the types of films are changing, headlined by romantic comedies about Lagos’ golden youth.

The emergence of major international streaming platforms such as Amazon or Netflix also opens Nollywood to a much wider international audience.

“Films from South America, Asia or countries that are almost unknown in Europe are successful on the platforms, so many Nigerian directors have discovered that their films can be seen on a global scale,” explains Nigerian director Daniel Oriahi, a professor at the Ebony Life Creative Academy.

“But for that they have to meet different standards, in terms of narration or technique,” he emphasizes.

– Bad reputation –

For example, at the academy we encourage screenwriters and directors to try out other genres, such as drama or thrillers.

Actors are trained to play differently in order to prove their – bad – reputation in the film world, to lack realism or to exaggerate their roles.

“We talk loudly, we’re excited, everything is very dramatic about us and it shows in our movies. But you can convey the same information without overdoing it, and allow a viewer in Asia to relate to our characters.” Mr Oriahi.

These different criteria are well understood by the powerful production company Ebonylife. And it is no coincidence that she has become one of Netflix’s key partners in Nigeria.

It is to train the professionals of this new Nollywood, but also to identify the best talents that she has launched this school. And it was during its first promotion that the production company saw Genoveva Umeh, the actress star of Blood Sisters, the first Nigerian series co-produced by Netflix, broadcast since the beginning of May.

Other students have been recruited as interns for a movie being prepared with Amazon.

Projects abound and in 2021 alone, Nollywood brought in $660 million in revenue for the country, or 2.3% of the GDP of Africa’s largest economy.

According to financial analysts, the growth potential is immense.

So for Esther Abah and her comrades, it is not only Los Angeles that is allowed to dream. Also in Lagos.

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