Behind the Doc Lens

Season 1: Blog 9– “This is Nollywood” Q&A Interview with Director Franco Sacchi By Lauren Brody

Trailer of “This is Nollywood”

This is Nollywood documents the Nigerian film industry, the second largest industry in the world after India’s Bollywood. The film follows Nigerian director Bond Emeruwa as he strives to put together a feature length film in nine days as well explore the rising popularity of the Nigerian filmmaking in the context of African culture.

Q1: Why did you decide to make a film about Nollywood?
A1: I was born in Africa but had been living in America for years. I had been following African news stories for a long time and wanted to reconnect with my birthplace. I came across a story inside the business section of the New York Times about Nollywood that inspired me to make a documentary. I felt like it was a great opportunity to reconnect with Africa on a personal level and tell a hopeful story about Africa rather than reinforce the usual negative stereotypes.

I contacted a Nigerian friend who was a researcher at Harvard to get information about traveling to Nigeria. He was very interested in my project to introduce Nollywood to the Western world and provided me with the contact of Bond Emeruwa, the acclaimed Nigerian director who became the protagonist of the film. I got very lucky when I was put in touch with Bond as the rest of the film fell into place once we connected.

Q2: Why is Nollywood so revolutionary?
A2: Nollywood is the second largest film industry in terms of sheer number of films produced that was born out of nowhere– Nigeria seems like the least likely place for a film industry. Most people would never guess that Nollywood is bigger and more influential than Hollywood in Africa. The idea that an African country with so many intractable problems could give birth to a movement without foreign investors or government is unbelievable. It’s both amazing and inspiring to see how Nollywood blossomed out of a grassroots African movement for people to get their stories out.

Nollywood has also had a major impact on the economy. In Nigeria, it is the third largest employer after oil and agriculture. Tens of thousands of jobs have opened up to support the industry- catering, costumers, rental companies. In a country full of problems that appears to limit the career opportunities for its citizens, there are now creative options- people can be an actor, director, editor, director of photography, write screenplays. Many respectable professions have opened up in the middle of Nigeria that provide hope and opportunity.

Q3: The obstacles Nollywood filmmakers face are tremendous, yet they produce 500 -1,000 movies a year. Can you discuss how the directors persevere?
A3: Even though some new Nigerian filmmakers are starting to work with larger budgets and are raising considerably the production values the bulk of Nigerian films are still made on a shoestring and at incredible speed. Directors feel that it’s better to have a film than nothing. Their budgets are tiny even compared to indie films in America and movies are churned out extremely fast on insane schedules and then the directors have to contend with problems that are unique to Africa– power outages, traffic gridlocks that prevent directors from moving locations and religious events and festivals that take precedence over anything else. In addition, the weather is very hot and the sky is rife with air pollution but this is the world they live in and they navigate this world with skill and grace.

Q4: You filmed Director Bond Emeruwa shoot a feature length film with your crew. What was it like to witness firsthand the making of a Nollywood film?
A4: When we were filming Bond Emeruwa shoot his film, I was just riding along with his crew. I was concerned that they weren’t going to be able to finish the film with all of the different obstacles that kept getting in the way, not to mention the timetable to finish shooting. That said, the schedule was great for my team of filmmakers because we could document the film in a short period of time. It was easy to gain clarity about the movie I wanted to make because there was a finite window of time for us to make our movie of Bond shooting his movie.

It turned out that the main shooting of the film took 11 days because they went over 2 days. After Bond’s film was completed, we stayed in Nigeria a few more weeks to do more interviews and explore Lagos. We also wanted to make sure we told the larger story of the industry as well.

Q5: Nollywood is more than just a film industry, it’s more of a movement to shed new light on Africa. Why is it important for the rest of the world to take note?
A5: Nollywood tells stories about resilience that in itself can make us think about Africa differently. There are many stereotypes and preconceived notions about Africa that Nollywood does its best to dispel. As one of my favorite Nigerian authors Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie says, “stereotypes can be true but are often incomplete.” We cannot always look at Africa through a lens of war, famine and AIDS– there is another Africa that wants that deserves to be told. There are other stereotypes that could define Africa and in particulars Nigerians. And they are extremely positive stereotypes. Nigerians for example are incredibly hard working and resilient people. They are amazing storytellers. We must free our minds and think differently- Africans want to live and make art and culture like anyone else even though they have struggles that are different than ours.

Q6: Why has Nollywood thrived?
A6: Nigerians want to see Nollywood movies but so does the rest of the continent. There is a psychological necessity for Africans to see films that deal with familiar problems starring local actors that the audience can relate to. Africans in the diaspora devour these films—any store that sells African products will sell these films. They are accessible and widely viewed by everyone. Africans are masters at storytelling and they took charge of their own film industry and it’s thriving.

Q7: What advice can you give to other filmmakers who want to tell stories in another country?
A7: There are many stories to tell and documentaries tend to tell stories about problems and suffering and while these need to be told, it’s also great to also show uplifting aspects of African societies, like Nollywood. Sometimes traveling to other places is not as complicated as you might think. You just have to do it. I would recommend that filmmakers keep an open mind and don’t ride on narrow and “safe” stereotypes that have been uncritically propagated for generations. Find an original story and point the camera from a new angle to introduce the audience to a new perspective and turn their world upside down. This, I think, is the job of a documentary filmmaker.

For more information on Director Franco Sacchi and his work, visit:

© 2013 Behind the Doc Lens. (Lauren Brody, Blogger & Isabel Garcia, Producer).

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