Nollywood entertainment in Logan Square | Bleader

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nollywood entertainment in Logan Square

Posted By on 04.22.13 at 05:39 PM

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A devil woman of 666
  • A devil woman of 666
Last week the Logan Theatre screened the 2007 Nigerian feature 666 in its Wednesday Night Rewind series, a weekly celebration of direct-to-video kitsch. It was the first Nollywood film I've seen in its entirety, so I can't say how it compares with others. But based on the pieces of other movies I've seen, it seemed to reflect the norm in its amateurish production values and general enthusiasm. After India, Nigeria has the second-largest movie industry in the world in terms of output, releasing literally hundreds of titles per month. Most of them are shot and edited hastily on consumer-grade equipment (according to some reports, the average production lasts about a week), then sold in stores for a couple dollars per disc. Much like Internet culture, Nollywood cinema is teeming with junk, yet it's a rather democratic junk heap—nearly anyone, it seems, has the chance to contribute to it.

From a Western standpoint, Nollywood features look more like home movies than mass entertainment—which may explain their favorable cult reception in the West. 666 notably lacked the sort of cynicism I associate with recent Hollywood blockbusters, which seem to peddle a different familiar spectacle in every shot. Compared with big-budget junk like Jack the Giant Slayer, 666 is refreshingly human in its slack pacing (conversations often drag out as the amateur players poignantly fumble for things to say) and its sincere worldview. The movie is a morality play in the medieval sense: sinners are literally manipulated by the devil and preachers can expel demons merely by invoking the name of Jesus Christ. It culminates with a battle between a heroic preacher and a demonically possessed little boy, in which beams of light representing forces of good and evil shoot out of their eyes. (Their weapons seem to have been created with an early-90s version of Macintosh Paint.)

The raucous spectators with whom I watched the movie may have laughed and shouted at it, but their attitude felt affectionate rather than derisive. 666 seems to be making up its plot as it goes along, rather like the stories small children invent at playtime to entertain each other. The crowd seemed eager to play along with it. True, the laughter turned cynical during an inept representation of gay sex, which the filmmakers clearly regard as a sin, and during the more ham-fisted religious pronouncements; but I imagine such laughter to be inevitable at a screening like this. Are there any Nollywood films that a Western, urban audience could watch entirely in earnest? If not, is that audience supposed to pretend that the world's second-biggest film industry simply doesn't exist? One always encounters cultural differences when discovering another nation's movies; learning to appreciate the movies can make the differences feel less pronounced. Perhaps there need to be more Nollywood screenings in Chicago—over time, the movies might not seem so kitschy or exotic to Chicago audiences. Last week's screening of 666 seemed like a good start—the three-dollar admission and homey atmosphere offered a glimmer of what it might be like to watch the movie in Lagos.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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