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Nollywood defies the odds to top film industry

By Christina Okello

For four days, Paris came alive with the vivid colours of Nigerian prints, and the sounds of Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo on the occasion of Paris' fourth Nollywood film festival that ended on Sunday. Spectators didn't just get a glimpse of some of the hottest films in Nigerian cinema, but a better insight into their hard-won success.

It's seen as an African success story, that transcends the boundaries of even Nigeria.

Yet the cradle of African cinema almost never made it to the big screen.

"If you consider the conditions in which Nigerian producers are working, it's amazing to work in those conditions and today be the second film producer in the world," co-founder of the Nollywood festival Serge Noukoué told RFI.

Second in the world only to India’s famous Bollywood, and churning out 2,000 or more movies per year, Nollywood is now bigger than Hollywood.

A while back, such a scenario would have been unthinkable.

Poor or wobbly have often been the adjectives that have dominated the prose of film critics when rating Nigerian cinema.

Not anymore. The spectators I spoke to at the Nollywood festival all praised the quality of the films in competition.

Topping the billing, was Kunle Afolayan's "The CEO", bringing together an all-African cast for a mystery-packed adventure involving five top executives, who are eliminated one after the other during a leadership retreat gone wrong.

The film boasts Benin's grammy-award winning singer Angélique Kidjo, and state of the art imagery, a firm criterion for Afolayan who is determined to see Nollywood advance to the next level.

"The perception of Africa in the film industry is that we are all poor. That is not the Africa I am from," Afolayan told RFI.

"Africa needs to be celebrated, and the world needs to know that we can have luxury as well, even if problems remain in terms of order," he said.

His arrival at the festival aboard an Airbus jet, where some 200 VIP guests were treated to an unusural premiere 35,000 feet above Africa, is an indication of Afolayan's determination to take Nollywood from second to first class.

For more on Nollywood's rise: listen to RFI's Christina Okello's report from the festival.

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