Lagos (AFP) – Inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Lagos, a man in a dark hoodie stops haphazardly at the entrance and looks at the statue of Christ in front of her.
He slowly crosses himself, stumbles against Peugeot and freezes.
With a black baseball cap shielding his eyes, director Esther Aba peers into his monitor. The shot was off. Time to take another.
“Come back, come back,” she calls out to her actor.
Together with a crew of student actors, lighting gaffers and sound engineers, cameramen and grips, Abah is part of a project to sharpen the skills of a new generation of Nigerian filmmakers to help them appeal to an international audience.
The church scene is part of the six-minute piece “Father Forgive Me”, with Abah EbonyLife Creative Academy doing half-filming over an 11-week intensive course.
The joint project between Ebonylife Production House – a Nigeria film powerhouse – and the Lagos State Government, seeks to train students like Aba to create African stories for the wider international public.
Films like “Father Forgive Me”—the story of a priest struggling with a moral dilemma—may not make it to the overseas market, but they are teaching young filmmakers to appeal beyond Nigeria.
“You can have an origin story but you have to present it in a way that anyone can see,” said Thert Corsten, South African head of the Lagos Academy.
“We want them to tell Nigerian stories to an international audience.”
Nigeria’s domestic film industry, Nollywood, is vast and prolific – second only to India’s Bollywood in terms of films produced and ahead of Hollywood.
Its films, along with the dominance of the Afropop music scene with stars such as Burnboy and Whizkid, have guaranteed Nigeria’s place as a cultural powerhouse on the continent.
Nollywood has somehow come from its roots in the early 1990s when directors created low-budget videos and DVDs that rarely hit the cinema screens.
But Nigeria’s film industry earned 2.3 percent of the national GDP last year, or $660 million, according to a PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report.
Changes in television, cinema and streaming have made films more accessible to Nigeria’s elite and the African diaspora, who are eager for content with bigger budgets, says Alessandro, an anthropologist specializing in Nollywood at the University of Science Po in Bordeaux, France. Jedlowski said.
The rise of platforms such as Netflix and Amazon is also creating demand for better movies from Western studios, which have traditionally dominated the entertainment industry.
Already some of the Academy’s students helped produce Netflix’s first original, “Blood Sisters” from Nigeria, which tells the story of two friends caught in an accidental murder.
“Netflix is global, so it is gaining traction not only from Nigerians or African diaspora, (but) Europe and America as well,” said Daniel Oriahi, Nigerian filmmaker and Ebonylife educator.
“It’s great that our stories are getting global attention but what are we going to do differently?”
Opened just over a year ago, the school occupies part of an Ebonylife building in Lagos’ Victoria Island commercial district, where students specialize in one aspect of filmmaking, from script-writing to post-production.
About 500 candidates apply for 120 positions in the programme, which is offered free of charge and taught by filmmakers from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
After a few weeks of training, they move on to filming in an intensive programme. Four films have been selected for screening at the graduation ceremony.
Young director Abah said, “I made a few short films but I knew I needed to understand more about the film.”
“I look at the film from a different perspective now and I really understand what the film is about.”
For the Lagos state government, the investment was part of a campaign to help the city’s creative industries. Two more film schools will be part of the programme.
“The government has invested heavily in this training and we are glad we are seeing the results,” said Lagos Tourism and Culture Commissioner Uzmat Akinbil Yusuf.
Back at the Lagos church, an actor’s makeup is touched up by cellphone lights as the lighting crew looks at how to capture the colors of the stained-glass windows.
“We have to make do with what we have,” said Elijah, one of the lighting crew.
The camera rolls as a character moves off the sellotape cross on the floor marking their starting point.
Patience is running out and the crew gets restless.
South African cinematography lecturer Jan du Toit steps in with a touch of guidance. He moves the lighting to the pews and guides the cameraman to follow the actor smoothly.
“It looks better now,” he said. “fantastic.”
© 2022 AFP