[News] Out of Africa: Kunle Afolayan bids to bring Nollywood cinema to the world

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Hailed as the ‘Martin Scorsese of Lagos’, Afolayan is finding new ways to take his films beyond Nigerian borders – screening his latest, Phone Swap, at the Film Africa festival in London. With three films under his belt since he started directing in 2005 – which, by frantic west-African standards, makes him more the Kubrick of Lagos – the 38-year-old has become a byword for elevated quality: shooting on 35mm, releasing in cinemas, trying to improve on horribly stilted Nollywood formulas that seem to place more emphasis on gaudy soft furnishings than on dialogue and camerawork.
Afolayan who prefers to be called the Mel Gibson of Lagos says “I always show Apocalypto to my crew, because of the language thing. I say to them: ‘You don’t necessarily have to shoot your film in English for it to be good. You can do Swahili, you can do any language, you can even do no language at all.'” Gibson’s not an obvious renaissance-man idol – but crossing boundaries, having international aspirations, is the path forward for Afolayan and what is becoming known as the New Nollywood. The old Nollywood had no time for film festivals. Afolayan has just touched down in Amsterdam for the Africa in the Picture jamboree, where he is shopping his comedy drama “Phone Swap”. Next up is London, for the Film Africa festival.
“I’m not saying it’s the perfect film. I’m not saying it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Nollywood. But it’s totally different to what everyone else has done,” Afolayan says of Phone Swap. It goes without saying that it’s shot on film – a must for any hope of international distribution. And it has what sounds like the sort of sparky commercial premise that will give it high-concept traction beyond Nigerian borders: a country girl and a Lagos businessman fall in love in absentia after they pick up each other’s BlackBerrys at the airport. Afolayan says he tried to steer clear of the overripe visual humour and slapstick that has dogged traditional Nollywood comedy. Phone Swap is a departure for Afolayan, as well as the industry. His first two movies, Irapada (Redemption) and Araromire (The Figurine), were self-originated traditional stories. But he had to pitch for Phone Swap at an advertising agency, who were taking proposals on behalf of Samsung, who saw a branded Nigerian feature as a piece of potentially hot marketing in the last half of the noughties, when Nollywood was really hitting the global consciousness. Samsung later dropped out, but Afolayan, who won the pitch, went ahead with other corporate sponsors, most importantly BlackBerry. His various “partners” provided about 40% of the $500,000 budget; the rest came from his bank loans and his own pocket.
Nollywood could be about to take a giant step ahead, thanks to that recollection of the glory days. Afolayan is aiming to shoot “October 1st”- a serial killer movie set in 1960 against the backdrop of Nigerian independence, in February, but he is trying to secure a foreign co-producer outside the country first, to better his international chances. “It is difficult to get a mainstream distribution deal, no matter how fantastic your film is, because it’s a cartel, it’s a clique,” he says, “If you don’t belong, it’s tough.” Phone Swap is showing at “Film Africa” come 10th November,2013.

Culled from the guardian.co.uk