PICK Nollywood Babylon: Filmmaking on the Streets of Lagos

Nigeria has, according to this brisk, low-to-the-ground documentary, the third-largest film industry in the world after the U.S. and India (Bollywood). Hence Nollywood, which is actually a home-video business that exploded in the early '90s. The few cinemas left from English colonial rule have crumbled. Besides, says one prolific director, it's too dangerous for filmgoers to venture out at night. It's safer to stay home and gorge on these cheap, plentiful soap operas that mesh African folklore, Horatio Alger themes, and Christian evangelism—plus some sex and violence once the kids are tucked in bed. In this fusion of fantasy and grim reality, says director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen (who claims 157 feature credits!), Nigerian cinema offers "the answer to CNN." (He and others speak English, augmented with subtitles.) There is bad news, yes, but also hope. And Imasuen's cast and crew seem a merry bunch as they shoot chase scenes on Lagos streets, where permits and stunt men are apparently not required. Nigeria produces 2,500 movies a year, we're told, most with a budget of less than $10,000. Sundance and SIFF filmmakers should be so ingenious—and so attuned to the marketplace. Street vendors provide immediate data on what stars and story templates sell best. Then Imasuen and company set out to repeat the formula in a few weeks' time. Though it lacks outside context, the Canadian-made Nollywood Babylon celebrates the cinema entrepreneurs of an entirely homegrown industry. But the movie's true star is Lagos (population 14 million and growing): brutal, unregulated, vital; a Maximum City like Mumbai where everyone wants to be a slumdog millionaire—or at least to make that movie.

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