In Nigeria, a free film school to export Nollywood outside the African continent

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 “ready to run”† In this faux velvet confessional they film their short film, Father forgive me“3, 2, 1, action! †the young director launches while, on the advice of a professor, the sound engineer adjusts her pole.

Esther Abah is 30 and has already made several short films and music videos in Nigeria. But by integrating the school, “wanted to learn how to make films 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 in Nollywood, the very powerful Nigerian film industry, to make films that can be exported outside the African continent.

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A rarity in the country, education is free and fully funded by Lagos State, which has understood that its creative and ambitious youth are a real source of wealth and that the sector, better controlled, could be a huge provider of jobs. “We want our students to be able to tell Nigerian stories to an international audience in a format that is accessible to the world”explains the director of the school, Theart Korsten, to AFP.

All film professions are represented (direction, acting, production, screenplay, sound, artistic direction, etc.) and the teachers are Nigerian, South African or Kenyan, with international experience.

Huge Hacks

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 emergence of this industry in the 1980s, the vast majority of Nigerian directors have made their films in a matter of weeks for less than $20,000 (less than $19,000). Movies “funded in Nigeria and produced for a Nigerian audience”points out Alessandro Jedlowski, anthropologist specializing in Nollywood, Sciences Po Bordeaux.

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But in the early 2010s, despite massive piracy that destroyed Nollywood’s economic model, some distributors gradually moved to 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 increase and the type of film changes, headlined by romantic comedies about Lagos’ golden youth.

The emergence of major global 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 director Daniel Oriahi, a professor at the EbonyLife Creative Academy: “But for that they have to meet different standards in the field of storytelling or technology. †

Netflix and Amazon

For example, at the academy we encourage screenwriters and directors to try out other genres, such as drama or thrillers. The actors themselves are trained to play differently in order to prove their – bad – reputation in the film world, that of lack of realism or exaggeration of their roles. “We talk loudly, we’re excited, everything is very dramatic at home and it’s reflected in our movies. But you can convey the same information without overdoing it and a viewer in Asia will relate to your characters”says Mr. Oriahi.

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These different criteria were 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. To train the professionals of this new Nollywood, but also to identify the best talents, she founded this school. And it was during his first promotion that the production company saw Genoveva Umeh, the star actress of blood sisters, the first Nigerian series co-produced by Netflix, broadcast since early 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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The world with AFP

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