Nollywood is enjoying a resurgence, optimists like to preach.
Nollywood 2.0, or 3.0 or 4.0, depending on what generation it is making the claims. New Nollywood is the term most proponents seem to agree upon and just like the badly worn cliché that it is, this term has come to stay.
New Nollywood means different things to different people, but a common consensus allows that some elements must be present. Bigger budgets, newer stars, cinema releases, newspaper column inches, audacious hype, dazzling red carpets. Style, style and more style. For a typical example of New Nollywood goals, look no further than the Biola Alabi approved contrivance that is the recently released Banana Island Ghost, starring Chigul Omeruah.
In a race to outdo the next film in the glitz and glamour departments, someone is forgetting to pay attention to the most important element of the film, the story.
All the movie stars in the world, all the high wire gimmicks by self-obsessed techies and all the stunt casting this side of the Atlantic cannot solve that basic problem of the story. Get it right, and almost all other elements can be forgiven.
A compelling story is, after all, the reason Living in Bondage was such a big deal back in 1992 despite dodgy production values. The story is responsible for the eternal appeal of the early Tade Ogidan films, and the staying power of the great Amaka Igwe films. Not to romanticize the past unnecessarily, but these stories knocked it right out of the ballpark, hit a nerve, stayed the course and (almost always) concluded with a shebang.
With so much more tools and resources available today for the emerging filmmaker to play around with, the story is gradually giving way to style as the preferred method for bedazzling the audience. As attention spans get shorter and available options grow the opposite way, filmmakers have experimented with different ways to catch audience interest and sustain it for the average of 90 minutes.
And there is evidence for this line of thinking.
Kunle Afolayan, perhaps the most influential filmmaker working today has built a hugely successful career making these kinds of shiny products. He hit commercial and critical pay dirt with Araromire (The Figurine) and kept at it up until 2016’s The CEO exposed the futility of erecting brawn and ambition on a shoddy foundation. By the film’s final act, it had collapsed in a spectacular heap. One in which there was no coming back from. To catch a break from himself, Afolayan signed up for a three-picture deal with Africa Magic next.
However, his effect certainly lingers.
The art of the perfect ending is maybe the first element of screenwriting that has been sacrificed in the mad dash to impress the audience. These days, nobody knows how to end their films, and the glut of films released this year is proof.
Dare Olaitan’s Ojukokoro generated a lot of buzz upon its March release. Making use of voice-over narration, an ensemble cast, noir-ish mood, and a time-bending snap structure, Ojukokoro watered down its punch by tacking on a post-credits scene that can best be described as an unforced error. Ditto the dramedy Hakkunde in which director Oluseyi Asurf added an extraneous final scene that leaves quite the sour taste.
The biggest offender though,- and as such, hardest to forgive,- has to be the Omotola Jalade Ekeinde comeback vehicle, Alter Ego which stays on for at least fifteen minutes past its welcome. After conveniently wrapping up a primary plotline involving a serial rapist, the film devolves into a reel of vexations as it fumbles into overkill territory while seeking psychological closure for its heroine.
Peeping back into 2015, Niyi Akinolayan’s The Arbitration which announced itself as a smart legal thriller eventually betrayed its cerebral credentials when for the last scene, the director denied audiences a tiny but pivotal ambiguity concerning the he-said-she-said plot. There had to be a final scene spelling out ‘’The Truth’’. Just in case any doubts lingered.
Jade Osiberu’s feature-length début, Isoken fares better than most in reaching a credible conclusion not quite unhinged from the essence of the story but even she could not resist adding on that most popular of romantic comedy tropes for the closing sequence, the wedding party. Just after the last kiss.
A back to basics intervention stressing the importance of fidelity to the story will gladly be welcome at this juncture. But the story remains king and nothing quite trumps a carefully executed yarn. One that does not start, sag then drag. Nothing wrong with style and gimmicks but someone should please teach these whizkids how to end the Nollywood film.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, film/music critic and occasional ruffler of feathers. His writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. He has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments and City Press. Okiche also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He participated in the 2017 Durban International Film Festival as part of the Talents Durban. He tweets from @drwill20.