Film biz in Nigeria is growing like trees

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It sounds like a far-fetched film plot: Two African street kids are plucked from obscurity to become the toast of the continent.

But that's exactly what happened to the Nigerian dwarfs known as Aki and Pawpaw, stars of the eponymous "Nollywood" film.

Such is the growing impact of the Nigerian film industry that it's not only African kings and politicians who have come knocking to request the pleasure of Aki and Pawpaw's company. Now Hollywood is standing at Nollywood's door.

Nigerian author Chinmanda Ngozi Adiche's novel "Half of a Yellow Sun" has been acquired by Andrea Calderwood, one of the producers of "The Last King of Scotland," and her Slate Films. The novel is set before and during the Biafran War. Slate is developing the adaptation with BBC Films and the U.K. Council.

In a separate development, Focus Features has picked up rights to Michael Veal's book "Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon." It's about African beat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who became a successful jazz-funk musician in the U.S. before going back to Nigeria, where he frequently was harassed and imprisoned.

Nollywood is Nigeria's guerrilla film industry, turning out not only its own homegrown stars but also about 2,000 films a year. It is the second-largest employer in a country where a blockbuster is likely to be a film about the wrongdoings of the government.

"Peace Mission," the film that tells the Nollywood story, screened at the just-concluded Dubai International Film Festival, where it made its Middle East premiere in the Cinema of AsiaAfrica section.

"We don't need other stars; we have our own," said the film's narrator and guide, Peace Aniyam-Fiberesima, who was in Dubai to promote the film alongside its German director, Dorothee Wenner.

A filmmaker, TV star and founder of the African Movie Academy Awards, Aniyam-Fiberesima said: "People asked me why I was launching the awards when there is starvation, war and AIDS. But thanks to Nollywood, we have stars. There was a revolution that came with digital filmmaking, and you can see the results right here." (partialdiff)

Nollywood films have become successful on the basis of a straight-to-DVD financial model.

"Nollywood has created a mass market via DVD in a place where the average salary is around $100 a month," Aniyam-Fiberesima said. "Across most of Africa, people can't go to big cinemas. There are large families of 10 or more people, and tickets cost $10 apiece." (partialdiff)
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