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Nollywood films lack substance —Emeka Mba

But it hasn’t been very successful since that time because when we came in 2005, there was still a lot of work to be done…

But it hasn’t been very successful since that time because when we came in 2005, there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of very basic things which I felt needed to be attacked in order to bring the industry into some kind of definite structure, like the issue of knowing the major players, knowing who are the distributors or the marketers as they choose to call themselves.

When I came on board, I realised that you cannot effectively regulate an industry or a sector without a structure. If a structure is absent, then you better create it otherwise the very essence of all your regulatory interference or mechanism will amount to nothing. I think that is what we realised and I think my predecessors had battled, especially Mrs [Rosaline] Odeh, whom I took over from, and spent a lot of energy and effort trying to bring the industry into some kind of shape. But I took a philosophical departure from her in terms of approach. It was a much more serious intervention in going not only to attack the products of the film industry but attacking the root cause: what creates the product; because you should remember that if we operate a video film industry, the film would have already been done. The film is already here in the market place by people you don’t know, they only bring it here to say censor my film that is already in the market and when you censor it, digital video is such a dynamic medium that you cannot control, unless you control the source which is being distributed.

Funding was a big issue for your predecessors. Are you having the same problem?

Funding has always been an issue for the board, but we also had to start working and seeing how we could raise our revenue profile and also raise the importance of the film industry and by so doing, the importance of the board as well so that we could attract some more funding from the Federal Government in order for us to be able to achieve the programmes we set out to achieve; and to some extent we’ve been successful in this regard. But I think that there is still a lot more to be done in terms of building on what has been done because what we’ve actually been able to do is to create the pillars but the actual building is on, we are not even talking about the finishing. I think that’s the next stage in our work.

When you came on board, there was this media hype that Nollywood was going to be like Hollywood or Bollywood. What could you say about that?

I am going to be critical. Yes, we are the third largest film making country in the world but it’s just by sheer numbers—quantity. But the substance is missing and, even in terms of the substance, what is remarkable is that if you look at what India or even other countries have done in terms of the substance and number of films that they produce and how much has been generated from those films, compared to the thousands of films we are producing, it is nothing to write home about. So we are making noise and screaming when I think we need to go back to the basics. What we have done through the distribution framework and through some of the other interventions we have put in place is to let people know that to build a solid and a sustainable film industry, you need to go back to the basics, to build a framework. And this frame work will not only be done by government but by the industry collectively.

In other words, it will be futile for government to say we are going to do this, the industry has to step on the plate and decide how they want to engage the opportunities that are available and on the frameworks of support that government can put in place. A lot of people have this assumption that being the third largest means there must be millions and millions. Obviously there is money but the money is not coming back to the industry. So we need to create some kind of balance and ask the difficult questions—what do we do to bring business back into this industry and to bring solid structure that can survive the test of time? I think that was the essence of the distribution and exhibition framework but, beyond that, all the other interventions we put in place were essentially to strengthen the various points of weakness of the industry.

Regulation is a tough business in Nigeria. Are you satisfied with the cooperation you are getting from stakeholders in the industry and other relevant agencies?

I think you’ve answered the question yourself. Regulation is very difficult, it’s even difficult when you are dealing with structured institutions and structured sectors like finance or insurance or law or pharmaceuticals, because you’re dealing with companies that, by the very nature of their investment and visibility, lend themselves to regulation. For example, a broadcaster under the NBC has a broadcast station where there is a studio, there is an antenna, you know its point of visibility and presence, etcetera. But when you are talking about the film industry, you are dealing with two things, which you need to understand it, fundamentally.

One, you are dealing with the fact that the factors of production are so dispersed and so free and so available that anyone with a video camera can be a filmmaker. The factor of distribution is so cheap and so freely available that anybody with a computer and internet can distribute a film, so he doesn’t need to have an antenna, he doesn’t need a studio.

Nothing has changed over the past 40 years. Fifty years ago, if an Ola Balogun, or anybody, shot a film on 35mm celluloid, he would then take it to a cinema and it would be projected. How many cinemas did we have in Kano or Lagos for example? You could count them—10, 20. We are in 2009; how many video cameras come into Nigeria? And that was the problem my colleague in Kano faced; he may have overreacted but, substantially, he was reacting to something that was a problem. How many computers come into the country? There is e-movie so you can fundamentally become a filmmaker from your bedroom. So when you ask the question: what does it mean to be a regulator of the creative industry? I would say multiply whatever problems another regulator has by 10. And the thing is that you are dealing with people who fundamentally do not like to be regulated—no writer, no creative person likes to be told what to do—that’s why it was important to us even strategically to create distribution between the business, the creative side of filmmaking.

In the next five to 10 years, where would you place Nollywood?

I think that Nollywood is in the transformation state at this point. I have heard so many people saying that the industry is suffering, the industry is going down, the industry is suffering from piracy, all those things are important.

If you ask me 10 years from now, I think that this industry will be starting on a solid foundation. In fact in three to five years, you will see internationally recognised movies coming from Nigeria about Nigeria that will do great things for our country and for our people not just in terms of winning global recognition but even in terms of changing our mindset about who we are as a nation and to accept ourselves and to be more tolerant towards one another.  I think those are the things I see in the kind of young filmmakers [we have] today—their vision, their professional ability. I think that is the future of this industry—where films become a timely, true lighting sword for the redefinition of Nigeria; that is the thing I see will happen.