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“NOLLYWOOD BABYLON” writer-directors, Ben Addelman

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 6:00 pm — Screening Room, Sundance Resort]

A lot gets tossed around these days about how new technology is changing the nature of storytelling. The ability of the audience to use technology to influence how a story unfolds is considered novel, complete with all the symptoms that characterize a fresh idea with legs. But one look at Nollywood, Nigeria’s grassroots film industry, now the third biggest in the world and the main subject of our film Nollywood Babylon, paints a different picture.

Nollywood’s approach emphasizes the immediate: shoot a film in a week, sell it in the market a few weeks later. When we first started our research, watching tons of Nollywood movies, a lot of them seemed seriously lacking in the basic ingredients of narrative. With apologies to the Seinfeld clan, it was baffling how two or three characters could talk about nothing for an entire scene.

But traveling to Lagos changed everything. Lagosians were eating these films up, in many cases watching three or four a day. We were obviously missing something.

As Lancelot, the director we follow, points out, in Africa, the grammar of oral storytelling is familiar to everyone. The storytellers’ job is to plant an idea in the audience’s mind, not actually represent the idea themselves. That’s for the audience to decide. The audience is the author.

For Lancelot and many others, Hollywood is “fake” because it uses the techniques of cinema to construct a reality that is completely foreign to them. It imposes its own vision of the world onto its audience. Nollywood does the exact opposite, and so for millions of people who watch Nollywood films across the globe, Nollywood is real because Nollywood give its audience the freedom to create the story from their own experience.

So remixing, ripping, sampling — whatever you want to call it — is nothing new. It only seems new to us because we are used to being so far removed from our storytellers. And that’s the number one thing that technology has done for stories is to bring their tellers closer to their audience. Shame on us for once again thinking of something as new that in other parts of the world they have been doing for years.

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