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NOLLYWOOD BABYLON (2008)

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Friday, 20 December 2013 03:03

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     If I asked you to name an African movie, you'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with anything that wasn't either The Lion King, District 13, or that 30-second trailer for Ghanaian Terminator vs. Predator. Though most people in the West aren't aware of it, the African country of Nigeria (with some help from Ghana) actually has an extremely prolific film industry - it ranks third in the world behind only India (Bollywood) and the US (Hollywood), and has come to be affectionately known as “Nollywood.” Nollywood Babylon gives us a brief tour of the country, explains how its unique style of filmmaking came to be almost by accident, and follows along with several directors and producers of today, providing a fascinating look at the unique culture of West Africa interpreted through a familiar art form.

 Life of the Party (Positives):

     Enumerating the strengths of a documentary is difficult, since often the best parts are the interesting facts you learn. Just telling you those facts here would kindof defeat the purpose, but here's some basic ideas to get you interested: Nigeria, like much of Africa, is a poor country, and so a film industry simply wasn't possible until the arrival of VHS in the early '90s. In the twenty-some years since, however, home-grown movies have exploded in popularity to such a degree that filmmaking is actually the second-largest industry in the entire country – that's right, more Nigerians are employed making movies than almost any other single field. Generally, these movies are shot, edited, and produced using consumer electronics and off-the-rack editing software, then pressed into DVDs and sold in local shops and on street corners. Basically, for anybody who loves the practice of low-budget filmmaking in general, this movie is the ultimate depiction of that sub-industry. The film also goes into detail about Nigerian culture, common themes and storytelling techniques, how it led to a predominance of guerrilla-style filmmaking, why the entire industry skips theatrical releases and goes straight-to-video, and various other fun details.

MINOR SPOILERS: One reason why the entire industry skips theatrical releases and goes straight-to-video.

 

     Fortunately, since the official language of Nigeria is English (did you know that? I didn't know that), all the interviews and the movies themselves are completely understandable (with subtitles just to account for thick accents). The result is that we can enjoy all the film clips just as much as the local audiences do, if not more so, because many of them look so darn goofy. Although most Nigerian movies are inexpensive romantic dramas or comedies, quite a few of them involve fantasy elements, complete with incredibly cheesy special effects. Unlike Western fantasy movies, however, African fantasy is much more grounded in religions and traditional superstitions that people actually believe in, from Christianity to Voodoo. Organized religion has a strong connection to the film industry as well, with some large evangelical organizations doubling as film studios to help spread their philosophical message through movies. The fact that the movie begins with acclaimed Nigerian director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen (yes, that's his real name) leading the cast and crew in prayer, literally asking Jesus to bless their cameras, microphones, and lighting rigs, was a simple demonstration of how art and spirituality are inextricably linked.

     Lancelot, by the way, is an extremely prolific filmmaker, having produced and directed more than 150 low-budget films since 1999, which makes him basically the Roger Corman of Nigeria... and, dammit, I'm spouting trivia again. Just watch the movie, it's full of interesting stuff!

The standard Nigerian film crew: director, cameraman, two boom operators,

and one guy who's just there to be on lookout for roving hyenas.

 

Potential Hangovers (Negatives):

     I honestly can't think of any major weaknesses to this movie, it's cleanly produced, features some entertaining personalities, and covers interesting material that flies under the general public consciousness. If anything, I wish there were a little more of it, as at only 75 minutes long, I feel like they could have added another segment or two to get really in-depth.

 

The Vibe – Solo Experience, Casual Gathering

     Like many documentaries, you should put this on when you want to actually learn something new, so checking it out alone or with some friends that are also interested in Africa or filmmaking as an industry would be best. The film does have a pretty groovy Afro-beat soundtrack, but just because it sounds like a party doesn't mean it's necessarily well-suited for one. Even with subtitles, being too distracted might cause you to miss the interesting anecdotes and Ed Wood-style special effects (the witch-burning scene is especially hilarious).

 

+ Interesting and emotionally-evocative stories about a country most people know little about

+ Loosely follows a low-budget film production from start to finish

+ Entertaining just from the sheer volume of quirky foreign movie clips on display

- Kinda short and could have provided more

Read 629 times Last modified on Friday, 20 December 2013 03:28

About Us

Tanked Matinee is the place to go for good drinking movies. What do we mean by that? Simply speaking, we evaluate and recommend entertainment media based on how much fun it is to watch with friends on the sofa and a cold beer in hand.

Everyone knows "The Godfather" is a great movie, but is it as great to drink with as "Roadhouse?" We can appreciate "Citizen Kane" as a masterpiece of cinema, but is it as good a centerpiece for your party as "Santa Clause Conquers the Martians?"

Tanked Matinee appreciates film as art, but when you're kicking back on Friday night with a tall Rum & Coke, you're not looking for art, man, you want to be entertained. We're here to recommend the best movies for your night in, whether it's a big party, small get-together, or just a quiet night alone with a bottle of wine or three.

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