JOHN C. MCCALL, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, who has since 1989 been conducting research in some areas of Nigerian Art, including Nollywood, was recently in the country for a conference: He has also written quite a number of books among which are Dancing Histories, an ethnography of the Ohafia people. In chat with MICHAEL ORIE, the don expressed views on the popular Alaba International Market, where he went to get some local and foreign movies, the Nigerian film industry, film distribution and piracy.
AFTER many years of following the trends in various aspects in Nigeria, Prof. John McCall settled down to work on various project on Nollywood. Speaking on the Nigerian movie industry, he said, “until recently, African cinema was synonymous with films from Francophone Africa, especially, the French ‘art film’ tradition. These projects were primarily produced by European-trained filmmakers and funded by European agencies. They were targeted at non-African film-festival audience. But all that have now, changed with Nigerian movie industry producing thousands of low-budget video movies.
Made for the African audience, these drama combine B-movie sensationalism with indigenous cultural narratives to produce cinematic parables set in the ambivalent landscape of post-colonial Nigeria. The grassroots of Nigerian movie industry is an unprecedented phenomenon that points towards unforeseen potential in African mass media. Many of the motifs found in the movies are similar to those found in the popular posters. These include political corruption, religious fundamentalism, the evils of excessive wealth, secret cults, human to animal transmutation and the trade in human body parts to foreigners.”
Giving his impression of his recent visit to the Alaba International Film Market, the don recalled how the visit reminded him of one of his researches on market women sometimes ago.
He said, “open market remains an important site of local commerce in Nigeria. The majority of vendors are most times women. Though these markets appear to be the same, with Alaba there are more men than women. The market has equally grown bigger than what it was 10 years ago when I visited it. It now has a big network channel through which Hollywood and Nollywood movies get to the whole of Africa. These films are cheap and easily available here. This kind of market cannot be seen anywhere in USA, even in other African countries.”
“The American economy is formalised in the kind of business they do. They pay taxes, have receipts, invoice and documents for every transaction. This is an informal business that everything within it is almost free. It cannot be obtained anywhere in the US,” he added.
Considering the effect of the market on the Nigerian economy, McCall noted, “ Alaba market is a complex market. It is connected to the world and through it videos easily get to every part of Africa and the rest of the world. It has made movies to be global, though most of them are pirated CDs, they go anyway. With pirates the money does not come to the original owner, but there is no system that will have that kind of revenue and turn it back, because it is informal and lacks the structure that would enable one to tell how much money that comes in and goes out. There are no receipts, no invoices, no parking orders, no bills of lading and other document that are necessary in a formal system. However, the problem is because there is small amount of money involved and it is this small amount that is available to make movies.”
On the negative effects of the market to artistes as a ground for pirated works, the Anthropologist, said, “this is the market that has made the filmmakers and artistes to be what they are, today, and to be known across the globe. It is a blessing, but also withholding them from going beyond their present stage. They have to find some ways to formalise their operations, so that, when they make movies they would be able to monitor them effectively. They need studio, places and building as collateral to borrow money; you can’t do that with an informal business. They also need to be grateful, for the fact that the market is taking them very far and it couldn’t have happened without the Alaba market traders. I don’t think they (film makers) should cut them off. If you cut off this market the whole of Africa will also be cut off, but they need to find ways to incorporate them into a more formal structure, so that, when the marketers make some money, there will also be a way that some will get to the film cooperative,” he noted.
ON the current state of Nollywood films, the erudite scholar said, “ I like the movies; I study them, write on them and also show them to my student because they are interesting. However, I only study culture and films, I have not come to tell anyone how to fix the business around the film. I just want to learn about the movies and how they are made because things like this has never happened in the industry anywhere in the world. It is new and interesting.”
Commenting on critics’ views that Nigerian movies are replete with repetition, McCall said, “in America we have a movie industry called Hollywood and you find people complaining they make same movie and show the same actors and actresses in all the movies. What they are doing now is making movie out of a television programme that had been done about 10 years ago. They have run out of ideas. I hear people say the same thing about Nollywood. So, you can now see that it’s the same thing all over the world.”And as for solutions to the numerous problems confronting Nollywood, the author urged all the practitioners and stakeholders in the industry to come together and find a lasting solution to them, so that, they can fully benefit from the abundant potentials in the country.