I have a story, a story that I would like to share with you. And it's an African story. It is a story of hope, resilience and glamour.
There was Hollywood. Then came Bollywood. Today we have Nollywood, the third-largest film industry in the world. In 2006 alone, almost 2,000 films were made in Nigeria. Now, try to imagine 40, 50 films wrapped, distributed, every week in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria and West Africa. Some estimates put the value of this industry at 250 million dollars. It has created thousands, if not tens of thousands of jobs. And it's expanding. But keep in mind that this was a grassroots movement. This is something that happened without foreign investment, without government aid, and actually, it happened against all odds, in one of the most difficult moments in Nigerian economy. The industry is 15 years old.
And so maybe you're thinking now, why, how, an Italian filmmaker based in Boston is so interested in this story? And so I think I have to tell you just a few words, a few things about my personal life, because I think there is a connection. My grandfather lived most of his life and is buried in Zambia. My father also lived most of his adult life in East Africa. And I was born in Zambia. Even though I left when I was only three years old, I really felt that Africa was this big part of my life. And it really was a place where I learned to walk. I think I uttered the first words, and my family bought their first home. So when we came back to Italy, and one of the things that I remember the most is my family having this hard time to share stories. It seemed that for our neighbors and friends, Africa was either this exotic place, this imaginary land that probably exists only in their imagination, or the place of horror, famine. And so we were always caught in this stereotype. And I remember really this desire to talk about Africa as a place where we lived and people live and go about their lives, and have dreams like we all have. So when I read in a newspaper in the business page the story of Nollywood, I really felt this is an incredible opportunity to tell a story that goes against all these preconceived notions.
Here I can tell a story of Africans making movies like I do, and actually I felt this was an inspiration for me. I have the good fortune of being a filmmaker-in-residence at the Center of Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University. And we really look how digital technology is changing, and how young, independent filmmakers can make movies at a fraction of the cost. So when I proposed the story, I really had all the support to make this film. And not only had the support, I found two wonderful partners in crime in this adventure. Aimee Corrigan, a very talented and young photographer, and Robert Caputo, a friend and a mentor, who is a veteran of National Geographic, and told me, "You know, Franco, in 25 years of covering Africa, I don't know if I have come across a story that is so full of hope and so fun."
So we went to Lagos in October 2005. And we went to Lagos to meet Bond Emeruwa, a wonderful, talented film director who is with us tonight. The plan was to give you a portrait of Nollywood, of this incredible film industry, following Bond in his quest to make an action movie that deals with the issue of corruption, called "Checkpoint." Police corruption. And he had nine days to make it. We thought this was a good story.
In the meantime, we had to cover Nollywood, and we talked to a lot of filmmakers. But I don't want to create too many expectations. I would like to show you six minutes. And these are six minutes they really prepared for the TED audience. There are several themes from the documentary, but they are re-edited and made for you, OK? So I guess it's a world premier.
(Video) Man: Action. Milverton Nwokedi: You cut a nice movie with just 10,000 dollars in Nigeria here. And you shoot in seven days. Peace Piberesima: We're doing films for the masses. We're not doing films for the elite and the people in their glass houses. They can afford to watch their "Robocop" and whatever. Mahmood Ali Balogun: I think filmmaking in Nigeria, for those who work in it, is a kind of subsistence filmmaking — what they do to make a living. It's not the fancy filmmaking where you say, oh, you want to put all the razzmatazz of Hollywood, and where you have big budgets.
Here is that you make these films, it sells, you jump onto the location again to make another film, because if you don't make the next film, you're not going to feed. Bond Emeruwa: So while we're entertaining, we should be able to educate.
I believe in the power of audiovisuals. I mean, 90 percent of the population will watch Nollywood. I think it's the most viable vehicle right now to pass information across a dedicated cable. So if you're making a movie, no matter what your topic is, put in a message in there. Woman: You still have to report the incident. He needs proper medical attention. PP: I keep trying to explain to people, it's not about the quality at the moment — the quality is coming. I mean, there are those films that people are making for quality, but the first thing you have to remember about this society is that Africa still has people that live on one dollar a day, and these are the people that really watch these films.
Sonny McDon W: Nollywood is a fantastic industry that has just been born in this part of the world. Because nobody believed that Nollywood can come out of Africa. Lancelot Imasen: But our films, they are stories that our people can relate to themselves. They are stories about our people, for our people. And consistently, they are glued to their screen whenever they see the story. Narrator: Suspense, fun and intrigue. It's the blockbuster comedy. You'll crack your ribs.
Bernard Pinayon Agbaosi: We have been so deep into the foreign movies. It's all about the foreign movies. But we can do something too. We can do something, something that when the world sees it, they say, wow, this is Nigeria. Man: Just arrest yourself, sergeant. Don't embarrass yourself. Come on. Don't run away. Come back. Come back.
SMW: You can now walk the street and see a role model. It’s not just what you see in picture. You see the person live. You see how he talks. You see how he lives. He influences you really good, you know. It’s not just what you see in the picture. It is not what you hear, you know, from the Western press. Man: See you. Bye. Action.
Saint Obi: I was so fascinated, you know, with those cowboy movies. But then when I discovered the situation in my country, at that time there was so much corruption. For a young man to really make it out here, you got to think of some negative things and all that, or some kind of vices. And I didn't want that, you know. And I discovered that I could be successful in life as an actor, without doing crime, without cheating nobody, without telling no lies. Just me and God-given talent. Man: Let's go. OK, it's time to kick some ass. Cover this. It's your own. Move it.
Roboger Animadu: In big countries, when they do the movies, they have all these things in place. But here, we improvise these items, like the gunshots. Like they go, here, now, now, you see the gun there, but you won't see any guns shot, we use knock-out. Kevin Books Ikeduba: What I'm scared of is just the explosion will come up in my face. Woman: That's why I use enough masking tape. The masking tape will hold it. Wat, wait. Just hold this for me. KBI: I'm just telling her to make sure she places it well so that it won't affect my face — the explosion, you know. But she's a professional. She knows what she’s doing. I'm trying to protect my face too. This ain't going to be my last movie. You know, this is Nollywood, where the magic lives.
RA: So now you're about to see how we do our own movies here, with or without any assistance from anybody. Man: Action. Cut. (Applause)
Franco Sacchi: So many things to say, so little time. So many themes in this story. I just can't tell you — there’s one thing I want to tell you. I spent, you know, several weeks with all these actors, producers, and the problems they have to go through are unimaginable for, you know, a Westerner, a filmmaker who works in America or in Europe. But always with a smile, always with an enthusiasm, that is incredible.
Werner Herzog, the German filmmaker said, "I need to make movies like you need oxygen." And I think they’re breathing. The Nigerian filmmakers really, really, are doing what they like. And so it's a very, very important thing for them, and for their audiences. A woman told me, "When I see a Nollywood film, I can relax, I really — I can breathe better."
There is also another very important thing that I hope will resonate with this audience. It’s technology. I’m very interested in it and I really think that the digital non-linear editing has slashed, you know, the cost now is a fraction of what it used to be. Incredible cameras cost under 5,000 dollars. And this has unleashed tremendous energy. And guess what? We didn’t have to tell to the Nigerian filmmakers. They understood it, they embraced the technology and they run with it, and they’re successful. I hope that the Nollywood phenomenon will go both ways. I hope it will inspire other African nations to embrace the technology, look at the Nigerian model, make their films, create jobs, create a narrative for the population, something to identify, something positive, something that really is psychological relief and it's part of the culture. But I really think this is a phenomenon that can inspire us. I really think it goes both ways.
Filmmakers, friends of mine, they look at Nollywood and they say, "Wow, they are doing what we really want to do, and make a buck and live with this job." So I really think it’s a lesson that we're actually learning from them. And there's one thing, one small challenge that I have for you, and should make us reflect on the importance of storytelling. And I think this is really the theme of this session. Try to imagine a world where the only goal is food and a shelter, but no stories. No stories around the campfire. No legends, no fairytales. Nothing. No novels. Difficult, eh? It's meaningless.
So this is what I really think. I think that the key to a healthy society is a thriving community of storytellers, and I think that the Nigerian filmmakers really have proved this. I would like you to hear their voices. Just a few moments. It’s not an added sequence, just some voices from Nollywood.
(Video) Toyin Alousa: Nollywood is the best thing that can happen to them. If you have an industry that puts a smile on people's face, that’s Nollywood. SO: I believe very soon, we’re not only going to have better movies, we'll have that original Nigerian movie. BE: It’s still the same basic themes. Love, action. But we're telling it our own way, our own Nigerian way, African way. We have diverse cultures, diverse cultures, there are so many, that in the natal lifetimes, I don't see us exhausting the stories we have.
FS: My job ends here, and the Nollywood filmmakers really have now to work. And I really hope that there will be many, many collaborations, where we teach each other things. And I really hope that this will happen. Thank you very much. (Applause)
Chris Anderson: Stop. I've got two questions. Franco, you described this as the world's third largest film industry. What does that translate to in terms of numbers of films, really?
FS: Oh, yes. I think I mentioned briefly — it's close to 2,000 films. There is scientific data on this.
CA: 2,000 films a year? FS: 2,000 films a year. 2005 or 6, the censor board has censored 1,600 films alone. And we know that there are more. So it’s safe to say that there are 2,000 films. So imagine 45 films per week. There are challenges. There are challenges. There is a glut of film, the quality has to be raised, they need to go to the next level, but I’m optimistic.
CA: And these aren’t films that are primarily seen in cinemas?
FS: Oh yes, of course. This is very important. Maybe, you know, for you to try to imagine this, these are films that are distributed directly in markets. They are bought in video shops. They can be rented for pennies.
CA: On what format?
FS: Oh, the format — thank you for the question. Yes, it's VCDs. It's a CD, it's a little bit more compressed image. They started with VHS. They actually didn't wait for, you know, the latest technology. They started in '92, '94. So there are 57 million VCRs in Nigeria that play, you know, VHS and these VCDs. It's a CD basically. It's a compact disc.
CA: So on the streets, are film casts ... ?
FS: You can be in a Lagos traffic jam and you can buy a movie or some bananas or some water. Yes. (Laughter) And I have to say, this really proves that storytelling, it's a commodity, it's a staple. There is no life without stories.
CA: Franco, thank you so much.