Little actors play a big part

Aki and Pawpaw spread goodwill for Nigerian film biz

Complete Dubai fest coverage

DUBAI -- It sounds like something from 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, the stars of the film of the same name.

Still, such is the fame of the Nigerian film industry (dubbed Nollywood by the New York Times) that it's not only African kings and politicians who have come a 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 company Slate Films. The novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 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" about the African beat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who became a legendary funk musician in the U.S. before going back to Nigeria where he was frequently harassed and imprisoned.

Nollywood is Nigeria's guerrilla film industry, which produces not only its own homegrown stars but about 2,000 films a year. It also 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 which tells the Nollywood story, is screening at the Dubai International Film Festival, where it is making its Middle East premiere as part of 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 is Dubai to promote the film alongside German director Dorothee Wenner.

Aniyam-Fiberesima knows of what she talks. A filmmaker, TV star and the founder of the African Movie Academy Awards, which has attracted such stars as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Monique, she said: "People asked me why I was launching the awards when there is starvation, war, AIDS, revolution. But, thanks to Nollywood, we have stars," she said. "There was a revolution that came with digital filmmaking and you can see the results right here."

Nollywood films have become successful on the basis of a straight-to-DVD 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 a ticket."