The thing I chose to re-read (having first read it about a year and a half ago) was "In Defence of the Films we have made" the keynote address given by Odia Ofeimun at the 2nd National Film Festival in Lagos on 27 November 2003. Both celebratory and thoughtful, It is simply the best essay I have ever read on the Nigerian film industry, both placing it within a historical context and theorizing towards the future. I have been reading it from issue 8 of Chimurenga (2005), which some friends of mine in South Africa sent me, but when I searched for it online, I see that it has also been published by West Africa Review Issue 5 (2004), so I'll cut and paste a few passages from that.
"In Defence of the Films We Have Made"
by Odia Ofeimun
"Needless to say, the home-video has become the hegemonic means of defining the Nigerian film sense. Whatever is said about any other way of making stories on screen, it is the video film that will necessarily for the foreseeable future dominate the Nigerian film festival. For every day of the year, three new video films are unloaded upon the Nigerian market. Every year in the past half decade, about 200,000 to 300,000 new hands have been lifted from the throes of unemployment and underemployment by the gloss and glitter of the small screen. Conjointly, they generate about five billion Naira annually. Stranded artists, areas boys and area fathers, authors, dramatists, actors and closet fabulists have found their niche in the pack. Actors who had run away from the penury that haunted the stage have been brought back to life! Though they were dead now they are a vibrant part of a community that literally bubbles. Devotees of the stage who had been reduced to breaching their talents, and living near derelict lives, wondering what kind of society leaves her artists to suffer in so many distracting sectors, have acquired the gravitas of an established community. No longer are they among the artists who are sneered at by other moneyed professionals who are no better than what used to be called agbero bourgeoisie because they merely load other people’s wagons. Now the home video artist is not lumped with other artists who are ritually blamed for not being business-oriented. Within the norm of the home video, it is enough to be a scriptwriter, actor, dramatist, cameraman, director or singer although professionalism is still far away.
If you look at our hunger-besotted slums and our beleaguered villages, you find that many, so many, are finding their feet because of a trade that removes the duller moments from the depression of our neglected, unmanaged and generally manager-less towns and cities. Authors displaced by the collapse of the publishing industry have made a detour from the usual haunts in favour of the home-video turf. One look at any home video film, and the gushy life that it carries, brings a sense of how much of our society was dead and dying without finding a time to bloom. As such, gratitude must well up in the hearts of those enamoured of artistes who had given so much to the arts and are only just being saved for a season of eternity in the company of a vibrant younger generation by the home video films. This is to say that what appeared in the beginning as merely making do has opened floodgates to the peculiar Nigerian genius for creativity and enterprise. The burst of social energy that it has unleashed has very few parallels in any other areas of our national life except perhaps in the parallel growth of Pentecostal churches which it has serviced in many cities and which in an uncanny way services it."
"The avalanche of issues that films have covered bear testimony to unparalleled creativity which should make and have been making Hollywood buffs take notice. The sheer volume is unprecedented even if repetitious and not always obedient to the laws of professional decorum or excellence. For this reason, I would concede that the video films run the danger of merely supplying Hollywood with the raw materials to re-claim our shores in the not too distant future. But for now, in spite of a ritualistic slapdashness, there is so much energy and creativity that older motion picture industries have something to learn from. From boardroom struggles to political power play, military adventurism and godfatherism in politics, ritual murder, drug abuse and the rehabilitation of drug abusers, witchcraft and churchcraft, high living and low life, prostitution and AIDS, the home videos are brashly, even if self-consciously, seductive. They are turning out the Nigerian story in a no-holds-barred fashion which leaves no room for anybody to hide. In this, they recall the sass of junk journalism and, in a sense, what was called guerilla journalism under the military. Undeniably, they reveal an enormous lot about us and our society that is not beautiful. Not infrequently, they themselves are not beautiful or passable. But why judge an artistic culture by its commercial pulp rather than its outstanding performances. It is like the misbegotten booboo in literary criticism which takes the motley of self-published, poorly edited works, as basis for judging the vibrancy of Nigerian literature. In such situations, it is the judges who, inadvertently, are judging themselves."
To read the whole essay, see West Africa Review.