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How Anita Eboigbe is shaping the future of Nigerian film

Nigeria's film industry has been punching below its weight for years. Now that its rise is imminent, Anita Eboigbe is leading the industry's much-needed behind-the-scene conversations.

“This is what I needed to hear. Finally, someone said it!” A reader responded to a newsletter by In Nollywood, a publication igniting a new narrative about the Nigerian film industry. The article “Nollywood has a sound problem and these stakeholders agree” discusses Nollywood’s struggle with sound, a challenge it has struggled with for years. 

The conversation rippled through the industry. And the impact was more than merely theoretical. It sparked action. “We need to do the right things at the right time. Like getting good locations or building soundproof sets,” Izuchukwu Anozie, an AMVCA-nominated Sound Recordist best known for his work on the 2014 thriller Brother’s Keeper, said in the articleAt that moment, the industry was held accountable by those within and those observing from the outside. “That is what it is essentially. We want to inspire better conversations within the industry,” said Anita Eboigbe, co-founder of In Nollywood

The Genesis of an Odyssey

In Nollywood was founded by two friends, Anita Eboigbe and Daniel Okechukwu, both film journalists who had built independent careers writing about the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood. Anita engaged in a lot of deep analytical work on the industry, while Daniel, a film enthusiast, focused more on community building. “My writings were more of a sporadic newsletter, touching on the industry’s state and relevant topics,” Eboigbe said. Recognizing the synergy between their skills, they decided to merge their efforts. “Our primary goal was to create a space where essential conversations for industry stakeholders could thrive. We wanted to bridge the gap between various players in the industry,” Eboigbe explained.  

The platform aims to push necessary conversations in the Nigerian film space. Including long overdue conversations either hidden behind false figures, shied away from, or blatantly ignored in the 60+ years the industry has existed. In Nollywood explores these conversations through data-driven articles that expand thoughts on African cinema and its development. These articles often take the form of interviews, analyses, and commentary on various aspects of Nollywood, such as its history, culture, politics, economics, and aesthetics.

The publication started as a newsletter-only platform, gaining traction under its former name, Inside Nollywood. Steadily, it metamorphosed, accommodating mediums like podcasting and launching a limited podcast series focusing on the nominees for the 2023 Africa Magic viewer’s choice awards. Since one of their main objectives is to bridge the gap between filmmakers and their audiences, their occasional town hall meetings on Twitter spaces, which have quickly become a go-to for most film lovers and stakeholders, help develop direct user interaction between the filmmakers and the audience. There, the filmmakers can explain their creative processes to the audience, and the audience gets to ask questions directly and get answers in real-time. 

Anita Eboigbe, Co-founder In Nollywood.

Nollywood is a vibrant industry in transition.

“While you were busy chasing the bag during the week, Nollywood was cooking!” reads the tagline for This Week In(side) Nollywood, the platform‘s weekly witty recapitulation of the significant events in the industry. The quote perfectly depicts the state of Nigeria’s film industry. Nollywood is the world’s second-largest film industry, producing over 2,500 movies yearly. “It is an industry of untapped talents and potential; when Nollywood gets it right, people will be surprised by the sheer amount of talented people in it,” commented co-founder of In Nollywood, Daniel Okechukwu.

In the last two years, the industry has experienced several significant changes. Some of these changes led to remarkable trends and innovations. For example, Netflix committed $23.6 million to produce more than 250 locally-produced, co-produced, and commissioned video content. These trends have also helped the industry move beyond misconceptions and stereotypes.

Other changes made the industry’s disparities more apparent. Cue the cinema culture. A shift in distribution merely waned the allure of traditional cinemas. As of 2023, less than 20 per cent of Nigerians go to the cinema. From 2019 to 2022, the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria recorded a 28.7 percent reduction year-on-year. “A big part of it is that distributors and exhibitors have mismanaged the cinema experience in Nigeria. And we have seen them do it over the last ten years such that what used to be a culture does not hold an integral part of the Nigerian society today,” Eboigbe said. All these changes show that “the entire industry is at a stage where so many changes are happening at once. It is trying to understand what it likes and doesn’t like,” Eboigbe commented.

Information is the cornerstone of any industry. A report by McKinsey shows that data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers, six times as likely to retain customers, and 19 times as likely to be profitable. Right behind getting information is having a deep understanding of the market in which you operate. In Nollywood wields both deftly. They have brought discussions to the forefront, demystifying the creative process and highlighting the stories behind the scenes. A few months ago, filmmakers were dragged to social media court after a content analysis by In Nollywood showed that over 53 percent of Nollywood films have no writer’s credit.

Daniel Okechukwu, Co-founder, In Nollywood.

Behind the scenes In Nollywood

In Nollywood’s credibility rests on the strength of its data, and it spares no effort in ensuring its accuracy. Usually, the team collates their data using industry-based methods, such as videos, interviews, groups, and secondary data. The data then goes through a 2-factor authentication process before being analyzed for trends and patterns that inform their topics. “We are constantly just stacking up data, analyzing it, and updating it when necessary,” Eboigbe said. Occasionally, In Nollywood sends out a curated data report titled “The Industry” to its subscribers.

The platform has encountered its fair share of challenges, the foremost being the perennial nemesis: money. In an industry fueled by dreams, the desire to elevate the quality of content, conduct research, and spotlight essential stories has often clashed with budget constraints. “There is a certain level of standard that we aspire to. There is research to be carried out, stories to be told, people to spotlight, and projects to highlight, especially for posterity. If we don’t tell these stories now, we will lose them forever. There is a long list of things that we need to do. Some of these things we can’t pursue yet without funding” said Eboigbe. 

In Nollywood got to where it is by bootstrapping, a well-known funding method in the film industry. The Nigerian film industry started as a low-budget and informal sector that relied on self-financing and grassroots distribution. The first Nollywood film, Living in Bondage (1992), was produced by Kenneth Nnebue, a trader who used his spare video cassettes to shoot a movie on a shoestring budget. As of 2023, the average budget needed to execute a film-related project in Nigeria falls between ₦2 million and ₦4 million ($5,000 to $10,000), depending on the genre, quality, production value, and audience reach. The lack of funding makes it difficult for filmmakers to access adequate equipment, training, locations, and personnel for their projects. 

A more subtle challenge for In Nollywood comes from the film industry’s perception of the media. Journalists are often seen as adversaries rather than collaborators. Or, as Anita puts it, a fellow stakeholder. In her 2010 CIMA report “Nollywood: The Promise and Peril of Nigeria’s Burgeoning Film Industry”, Jane Bryce, a professor of African literature and cinema, said that Nollywood filmmakers often have an uneasy relationship with the media. One that often results in hostility and reluctance to cooperate or share accurate data. In their defence, some filmmakers have accused the media of being biased, uninformed, or unfair. “Sometimes you come across people who feel like you are trying to attack them or their work rather than see the essence of what you do,” Eboigbe said.

Film critic Jerry Chiemeke once tweeted that he found it hilarious when Nollywood filmmakers say that the Nigerian press doesn’t ask intelligent questions, hence their reluctance to cooperate with the media. “We don’t need to agree all the time, but we need to understand that we are all moving towards making this industry better and stronger. Whatever it takes to make the audience happy, we’re all striving for that at the end of the day,” Eboigbe commented.

Jerry Chiemeke, film critic and In Nollywood collaborator

A new generation of storytellers

In May 2022, In Nollywood introduced its Film Content Creation Fellowship, a first of its kind. The fellowship sought to create a pathway for those who share a passion for film but need more guidance to turn it into a profession. Anita and Daniel assembled a team with carefully selected mentors with varying experiences and platforms. The three-month training program was designed to help participants develop their skills and knowledge through a robust curriculum, intentional mentorship, and industry insights.

“We created a system where people who are merely film enthusiasts but also think they can cut it as a journalist could get the tools and support they need to succeed. They would have a soft landing in the industry because we will be doing the intro for them,” Eboigbe said. 

Sure enough, most of the applicants were greenhorns, making the selection process rigorous. “We had to look out for unique details to select those who made it into the program,” said Fellowship Faculty Head Precious Nwogu-Aboh. Film enthusiast and critic Seyi Lasisi made the list. “My obsession with being better attracted me to apply,” he said. Although he doesn’t consider himself an expert, Seyi’s writing portfolio holds sway with many film lovers. However, besides the numerous film reviews he had read online, the fellowship was his first structured learning on film criticism. In September 2022, Seyi and 14 other journalists took their first courses on film journalism.

It was not enough to only train these fellows. “We had to build their confidence too,” said Nwogu-Aboh. “It meant keeping the communication lines open to all fellows during and even after the program.” Each prospect received detailed attention to gain a firm foothold in film journalism. “They went from just seeing this as a hobby to seeing it as a source of livelihood,” Eboigbe added. Fellows Michael Aromolaran and Kikachi Memeh explore relevant film culture on Culture CustodianFancy Goodman’s storytelling on WhatKeptMeUp is as compelling as it is honest. Seyi Lasisi’s column on Afrocritik has become a go-to for Nollywood sceptics. He got invited to cover this year’s Durban Film Festival. “The training exposed me to industry practices I was not privy to prior. Beyond the training impact, it gave us a community we can rely on for advice and industry-related conversations,” Lasisi said.

“Since In Nollywood kicked off, the quality of film journalism in Nigeria has improved,” said Jerry Chiemeke, a culture writer and regular In Nollywood collaborator. “They strike the perfect balance between improving writing and perspective and providing a strong network for opportunities,” he added. Jerry is a writer and film critic who has mastered weaving humour and seriousness, as evident in his numerous articles about Nollywood, African literature, and Nigerian music. 

In Nollywood met Chiemeke at an exciting time – he was slowly returning to film criticism after a three-year hiatus. He had just finished covering the Durban International Film Festival when Anita contacted him to be a facilitator at the inaugural In Nollywood Film Journalism fellowship. “It was an easy decision,” Chiemeke said. “Passion met structure.”

Nollywood has never needed people who will drive and set the agenda as it does today. The industry is snowballing, with filmmakers working hard to create innovative and exciting films. The mantle now rests on how the media portrays this growth. However, for this to happen, the media needs to be firm and grow at the same pace or even faster. “It is our job to help the consumers understand the things that need fixing, the things that need to get better, the things that are working, and things that need reforming,” said Eboigbe. Thankfully, “We’ve seen more people writing and creating content around film journalism. Writers are also going from covering only Nigerian projects to pan-African and global ones,” she added. The fellowship returns for its third edition next year.

Precious Nwogu-Aboh, In Nollywood Film Content Fellowship Faculty Head.

The future of Nollywood is in the power of conversation.

C.J Obasi’s latest movie, Mami Wata, takes a daring approach to Nigerian filmmaking. The black-and-white film tells the story of two sisters who must fight to save their village from a ruthless warlord and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess. Anita’s conversation with the film’s producer, Oge Obasi, in an exclusive piece titled Mami Wata: Oge Obasi’s Resistance Actis one of her favouritesIn the article, Eboigbe demonstrates how Obasi challenges the patriarchal and colonial narratives that have oppressed and silenced African women and how she celebrates their creativity, agency, and spirituality, much like the film’s plot. “A big part of what we do is show the humanity of the art, and that, for me, is one of my favourite things,” Eboigbe said.

It was the same effect when Anita wrote about Mami Wata’s lead actress, Uzoamaka Aniunoh’s journey to Sundance earlier in January. And when she wrote about actor Olarotimi Fakunle getting his big break 26 years after his first on-screen role. And when she wrote about the evolution of female characters in Nollywood. The latter is (at the time of publishing) the most-read article on the platform. “I wasn’t surprised it was a hit with our readers,” co-founder Okechukwu said. “Nollywood has become more progressive in portraying the Nigerian woman over the years. Anita was able to contextualize and humanize that journey with personal stories,” he said.

The audience reaction is what affirms the publication’s objectives. It is why we do what we do,” Eboigbe said. “The conversations have to drive the needle to get people to ask the right questions and seek the right answers.” This has become the audience’s newfound power. More people recognize that the industry exists for them and that their voices hold sway. They can hold creators accountable for their actions. “There was a period when filmmakers dictated what the audience liked, mostly comedy or party films. The audience did not have the courage or the opportunity to challenge this narrow representation. Now they have found that voice, we see a wider range of content and an audience for them. Now, films are judged by their creativity, not by their genre. Now that the audience has found their voice, you can see that there is a wider range of content and an audience for them. This big shift has encouraged more daring films,” said Eboigbe. This has had a double effect as filmmakers now understand the audience better. “That’s the sweet spot of the work that we’ve been able to do in the last two years,” Eboigbe noted.

The role that In Nollywood plays has become increasingly vital. For years, Nollywood has been portrayed as a helpless child with stunted growth and, in some cases, retrogressive. “By constantly showing that Nollywood is evolving, we are inviting more people to join the journey,” said Eboigbe. Inherently, In Nollywood is more than just an observer. It has become an active character in Nollywood’s evolution. “It is groundbreaking, back-breaking, and timeless work. But steadily, we are improving how people perceive Nigeria’s film industry,” said Eboigbe.

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