This post is a comment I wrote in response to Jeremy Weate's post on African cinema in relation to Nollywood video-films, in which he claims that "One sometimes despairs that while the rest of Africa is producing fresh and innovative painting, photography and film in the face of enormous existential challenges, Nigeria languishes in the laziest and most unsubtle forms of creative expression." I figured that since I spent about 20 minutes of my thesis writing time writing the comment (arghh), I should also post it on my own blog. Keep in mind that this is off the top of my head and not quite as well thought out as it should be. But rather than spend another hour polishing it, I'm going to post it and get back to my thesis!
1) Confession. I have actually not seen enough English Nigerian films to be able to make a sophisticated and example-filled defense of them. But my knowledge of literary history makes me suspicious of blanket condemnations such as the one you made in your last post. I am suspicious of critiques that privilige "high" art as intrinsically more valuable than "low" art. Who makes these decisions? And aren't there many historical instances of one generation of "high art" critics misjudging the value of their own generations's cutting edge experimentation? Here is one relevant example: The knee-jerk negative reaction of the Western-educated elite to Nigerian films reminds me of earlier reactions to Amos Tutuola's _The Palm Wine Drinkard_. He appropriated older oral structures to write what appeared to be an embarrassing "misuse" of form to those critics trained to recognize Hardy and Hemingway as great literature. Tutuola was not necessarily following any specific genre; he, in fact, was creating his own form. So, first of all, in relation to Nollywood films, in a desire to see Nigerians make films "on par" with more Western-influenced form, do we risk throwing out great storytellers like Tutuola? Secondly, Do we risk imposing Western literary/artistic aesthetics for judgment on an art forms that owe as much to indigenous art forms as they do to Hollywood/Bollywood/Hong Kong film? Thirdly, Is the technologizing and mass exportation of orality not innovative?
2) Although I have not seen enough Nigerian English movies to give you a lot of examples, I do admire how the trickster motif has been transferred from oral literature to Nkem Owoh's films such as Osuafia in London, Bus Driver, Ukwa, etc. These may not be as subtle or "sophisticated" as Francophone African films, but they do provide entertaining continuations of orality--both of oral tales and indigenous forms of theatre.
3) I am much more knowledgeable about Hausa films, which I haven't yet decided whether to class a part of Nollywood or not. So, here is a more extended defense of "Kanywood." A) I find the appropriation of Bollywood style song and dancing rather wonderful on an aesthetic level as well as a symbolic addition to the meaning of the text. Just as Nkem Owoh's films continue an older trickster tradition, the Hausa filmmakers are innovatively continuing older oral structures in which the use of song marked important junctures of the story. Of course, as with any film tradition, some are done much better than others. B) Since most of the camera work, directing (etc) is self taught, it may not fall within conventions of visual storytelling developed in other traditions. It may not appear as "sophisticated" or as "artistic" to a Western trained eye. What I'd like to argue is that the self-taught filmmakers are developing their own conventions of visuality, according to their own self-selected education of watching Indian, American, and Chinese films, as well as according to massive amounts of audience feedback.
C) Off the top of my head, here are a few Hausa films I find thoughtful, thought provoking, and innovative: Zazzabi directed by S.I. Belaz; 2) Albashi directed by Abbas Sadiq; 3) Sanafahna directed by Nura Sheriff; 4) Bakar Ashana, directed by Aminu Bala. This list is certainly not exhaustive. Like I said I'm writing off the top of my head, and I know I have left a few off whose names I cannot remember.
Anyway, I'm sorry for taking up space on your blog, but I get a little defensive when I hear people pooh-poohing emerging art forms because they don't fit with their expectations of what make "great art." This is in no way a denigration of the fantastic celluloid African cinema, but an urge to consider the Igbo proverb, "Where one thing stands, another thing will stand beside it." To enjoy one does not mean you have to throw out another.