Nollywood takes 'A Trip' to Jamaica

Observer writer

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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With the success of 2015's big hit A Trip to Jamaica behind it, bigger linkages between Jamaica and Nigeria through its film industry are in the works.

The Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) recently hosted a courtesy call with a Nigerian film industry delegation that was in the island last week to meet with local filmmakers, showcase films from Nigeria, and host workshops to share Nigerian film industry best practices.

The Nigerian High Commission, in partnership with Jampro, hosted the delegation of senior public officials and business leaders from Nigeria, who were representing their film industry colloquially known as Nollywood. The delegation included Nollywood producers and actors, and representatives from FilmOne, Nigeria's largest film production and distribution company.

The Jamaican delegates included the Director General and Chairman of the National Film and Video Censors Board, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport, The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, the Jamaica Film and Television Association, and the University of the West Indies.

During the courtesy call, representatives from Jampro and the delegation discussed opportunities for the Jamaican and Nigerian film industries to collaborate and facilitate knowledge transfer. The meeting has come at a time when there is greater co-operation between the cultures of both Nigeria and Jamaica particularly in the music industry where Nigerian music has become quite popular in Jamaica, with songs such as Fall by Davido getting considerable air play.

Renee Robinson, Jampro's film commissioner, believes that the goodwill that exists between the two countries can be of benefit to both Nollywood and the Jamaican film industry through expansion into each other's markets.

“This is a real area of opportunity that can be maximised for both economic growth and cultural exchange,” the film commissioner told the Jamaica Observer. “Nigeria, like Jamaica, is on-trend with fashion, music, and of course in film; and the connection is evident when we see the types of collaborations and cross-pollinations that are occurring creatively. Jamaican creative content has the potential to find a ready audience in Africa, and vice versa.”

Robinson believes that this potential for greater exchange and expansion was reflected by the successful screening of a Nigerian film during the Nollywood delegation's visit to Jamaica.

Merry Men, 'the opening film of the delegation's visit, was seen by a packed house who laughed at all the right moments as we could see ourselves onscreen in the Nigerian characters,” she explained. “Likewise, A Trip to Jamaica, a Nollywood film that was shot here in 2015, was one of the highest grossing films in Nigerian box office in 2016.”

A Trip To Jamaica, which was shot on location in Montego Bay in 2015, employed 10 Jamaicans on the crew and five Jamaicans in the cast (as per IMDB data), and contributed approx. $7.1 million to the local economy.

The film commissioner pointed out that the deepening relationship between the two countries is further evidenced by the fact that up to this point a lot of the engagement between Nollywood and the Jamaican film industry has been business to business rather than through the two countries' governments.

She notes that local film-makers Donisha Prendergast and Michael 'Kush' Asher, among others, have filmed in Nigeria and built business relationships there.

“These exchanges are legitimately business-to-business, but are a natural fit to be expanded because of the similarity in the collective ideologies of our people,” she emphasised.

Due to the importance of business-to-business interaction in spurring the growth of a more productive relationship between the film industries Robinson made special mention of Nigerian film distribution company FilmOne, which was represented among the delegation.

“It was really quite important for the Nigerian High Commission and the Nigerian Film and Video Board that the delegation include business leaders as well as creative practitioners,” she stated. “As such, we were able to welcome the CEO of FilmOne, one of the largest production, distribution and exhibition conglomerates in Nigeria. This was really quite serendipitous, as there had been initial meetings held at the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago, and now the opportunity to advance the conversation. It would be ideal to have Jamaican content exhibited in Nigeria, as well as Nigerian content represented here. We would also welcome greater discussions on the development of exhibition spaces in Jamaica, as this was an avenue that recognisably catalysed much of the growth of Nollywood.”

Nigeria has a population of almost 200 million people and that represents a huge audience for the film industry which contributes US$590 million annually to the country's GDP. Nollywood employs over one million people directly and indirectly and its market also expands beyond Nigeria to its diaspora and a wider African viewership.

Nigeria is not a homogenous market but is instead made up of many regional and ethnic groupings. As a result, the market also consists of different languages within the country.

A comparison could be made between Nigeria and the Caribbean where there are different regional groups and territories speaking different languages but having a close affinity with each other and being part of a close collective of nations.

This Caribbean market could represent a greater audience for the Jamaican film industry and local film-makers could look at Nollywood to see how it transcended the regional, ethnic and language differences in Nigeria to create one great market for its film-makers. This same process could also find ways to integrate the markets of Jamaica and Nigeria.

It is an idea held by the Jampro film commissioner.

“Waiting around for Hollywood to take notice might no longer be in our best interest, when we can instead tap into the vast audiences that are demanding our content on the African continent, or within the multi-lingual base of the Caribbean region as a whole,” she said.

Robinson notes that apart from the sheer size of the Nigerian market there are also other factors which led to the growth of Nollywood from which the Jamaican film industry can learn.

“Understandably, Nigeria enjoys a much larger population than we do and monetising content demands for 200 million people is vastly different from three million people,” she explains. “But nonetheless, utilising the star system to bring mass appeal to the industry, turning out high quantities of product to master the production process, engaging local high-net worth individuals in priming the ecosystem, and most importantly – focusing on local talent and built-in audiences, marked some of the most important touch points to characterise the current Nigerian landscape. Much of this has been driven by private market forces, rather than by public market intervention. There's nothing stopping us here from re-visioning the way we approach growth and transformation.”

Robinson is appreciative of the recent exchange between the Nigerian delegation and Jamaica, and insists that more exchanges like these can only strengthen opportunities for greater business relationships between the two film industries.

“Nollywood has innovated in so many ways, including through many of the informal structures that we also share here in Jamaica, so there is a lot we can learn from each other,” she said. “I look forward to the possibility of this being an annual delegation!”

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