By G. Michael Dobbs
Quick name the world's largest film industries. The United States is an easy answer for most. Some might know that India is in the second spot, but the third is probably a surprise to all but the most avid movie fan: Nigeria.
The Canadian documentary "Nollywood Babylon" will be the next production featured in the World Film Series presented by the Bing Arts Center at 8 p.m. on Aug. 25. The series is made possible by a grant by the Springfield Cultural Council.
For American film audiences, foreign films have traditionally come from Europe, beginning in the silent era, and Asia, with the rise of the popularity of the martial arts films in the early 1970s.
Many times in the years since World War II, the movies from a particular country seem to catch fire with American distributors, critics and audiences almost in cycles. Films from Great Britain, France, Italy, Australia and Germany, both art and mass-market movies, have dominated the foreign film industry in this country.
In the past 15 years, China especially Hong Kong has been added to that list.
"Nollywood Babylon" will be a revelation for many people about movies that have had next to no attention here in this country.
The film follows one prolific director, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, who in 2008 when the documentary was shot, was marking on his 157th production. Imasuen and others explain that Nigeria once had a thriving theater scene in its capital city of Lagos, but violence has closed all but three theaters in a city of 14 million people.
What started to take the place of the theaters in 1992 was direct-to-video feature films distributed on VHS through the city's many markets. The electronics deals were among those financing these films as their availability spurred the sales of VCRs and television sets.
The Nigerian audiences for these films exploded as they were presenting stories from their own cultural perspective. Their distribution expanded to other African nations where the term "a Nigerian movie" was a seal of approval.
Imasuen employs an almost guerrilla form of filmmaking. He travels from one location to another hoping he can secure permission to film there and that his budget doesn't run out. While he uses some trained actors, he also casts amateurs. He opens his shoot with a prayer and closes the last take with a prayer and hymn.
He takes the profits he makes from one movie and plows them into underwriting his next production. Two weeks after completing shooting on one film, he is back working on his next movie.
Despite very low budgets and a reliance on real locations instead of established studios with sound stages, the producers and directors have tackled a variety of genres from drama to action to horror. Clips from a number of films show an exuberant cinema that some people might see as crude, but for myself I see as refreshing. These are movies that are not relying on the imagery of American films, but instead are a reflection and cultures of the filmmakers and their audiences.
The documentary's directors, Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, strive to put the films into a larger context. Showing the poverty and chaos of the country, the documentary shows how these films have been an integral part of the Christian evangelical movement with one minister becoming a prominent producer and star herself.
If you are open to a brand new movie experience, go to "Nollywood Babylon."