While the argument that Nollywood has grown can be debated for and against for an indeterminate period of time, one can postulate that the initial buzz and hype around films like “phone swap’, “last flight to Abuja” that garnered the interest of major brands no longer accompanies the premiere of the more recently released works, and let’s face facts, art is capital intensive, brands pitching in to promote a movie significantly reduces marketing costs for the filmmaker and helps them get closer to breaking even while ensuring a greater level of media publicity than the filmmaker or the distribution company alone would have been able to achieve, plus our entertainment industry is no different from a bunch of spare parts traders occupying a street and collectively taking up a name by which they are identified, no visible structure beyond that point. With local movies jostling for space at the cinemas, from the Rukky Sanda kind of stories to Tunde Kelani and regrettably, Elvis Chuks (He makes good Soap Operas, just seems perpetually incapable of making movies that would pass for a high school student’s first feature film project). There is a pertinent need for the cinema loving, the local cinema loving audience to have some foreknowledge of what they are about to belabor their eyes with. This is where film and TV critics come in.
In an entertainment industry where the west (Specifically Hollywood and US cable TV) is unfortunately the yardstick of choice, any attempt to create audio visual content is applauded, no matter how mediocre (Rukky Sanda darling, I’m looking at you, you’re not the only one though, but you readily come to mind is all). Flip the coin and you find those whose primary objective is to under the guise of constructive criticism throw the filmmaker’s work under the bus without remorse.
A film or TV critic is not a failed filmmaker, nor is [s]he merely an informed audience, or a film enthusiast. In an industry where critics serve as the medium that appraises a filmmaker’s work before it reaches the audience, a critic straddles the fence as a journalist armed with useful information that goes beyond what the audience sees on screen and a film enthusiast whose appreciation for the art of storytelling enables him sympathize with how the narrative is expressed and call out missteps made should his/her educated senses catch such.
The current crop of film critics in Nigeria leaves a lot to be desired. It is however, not entirely their fault though. A movie review is in the process of being made long before the clapperboard goes snap for the final scene. News bits, on location photographs and a lot of hype should hover around a movie before, during and after the initial release of a feature. Most Nigerian filmmakers do not bother themselves with such “nonsensities.” And a “settle first” kind of journalism will not carry such information as readership engagement is only a statistic used to impress prospective advertisers (ask Linda). For instance, the only place where I, personally, followed the pre production stages of the HALF OF A YELLOW SUN movie was via Indiwire.com. True enough, sponsored pieces to promote events and such are not bad in and of themselves, but where a movie being made constitutes a news worthy article on a site dedicated to that sphere, must it always be paid for before the reader gets to know of it? That aside, the filmmaker is usually rather unwilling to put out fodder for the press (who are unenthusiastic about their jobs to find out about what is going down where in the first place). That said, reading a review about a movie written out of the blues with no prior information leading up to it kind of feels incomplete to me, especially when I’ve had the opportunity to have read a lot of movie reviews by our local critics much to my dismay. Granted, not all movies released will see that kind of media attention I’m talking about, seeing as Nollywood releases an estimated one thousand five hundred movies a year, but when a Tunde Kelani, or a Kunle Afolayan film is in the process of being made, would your teeming audience, dear entertainment blogger not be a wee bit interested in reading about it? Just a wee bit? You know how I followed Tunde Kelani’s last work?(Guess the name) Two Fulbright fellows came all the way from the abroad (yes, this is normal Nigerian parlance) fuelled by their interest in the dynamics of our own Nollywood (I’m again looking at you on-the-couch bloggers).
Now on to my main grouse. A lot of what constitutes our movie reviews are single line verdicts. Things like “the movie was too predictable,” “the acting was bad,” “I expected more,” “The storyline was sappy,” and the likes dominate our local film reviews. In my uneducated opinion, these are not reviews but rants about how badly the writer received a movie. I should know though, as I have written a rant about a movie I had the pleasant misfortune of being involved in. A slightly more in depth explanation as to why a film’s storyline lacked punch would be highly appreciated. Was it the director’s interpretation, the cinematographers’ shots or the untested writing skills of the scriptwriter, maybe the poor editing or visual effects execution? Was it the horrible audio? How many of our current crop of reviewers can mention five award winning local scriptwriters off the top of their heads, just asking? How many can appreciate a [notable/noteworthy] Director’s signature in a body of work? We nod our heads and feel like part of the film enthusiast elite at the mention of names like Quentin Tarantino, Guilermo Del Toro and the likes, scream out PULP FICTION and Shawsank Redemption and I’m OK with that, really, but when we refuse to beam the spotlight on our local talent they will keep making mindless content for the bottom line and what they consider a mindless consumer who they believe cannot demand better and want to be fed high school drama team presentations on DVD.
Such lack luster reviewing skills is why the comment sections are filled with statements like, “Go and shoot your own.” “which one have you shot, hater oshi.” I haven’t seen a movie entirely lacking in positives, never. But a rant review robs you dear critic of your credibility. Was the editing pacey enough to keep you watching the said movie, were the colours vivid or soft, was the cinematography like a whole new vista into the creator’s mind? Did the score engross you? (Nigerian movies barely ever get the score right though, D’banj, bother you? Seriously, for Half of a Yellow Sun? ….walks beach across horse, sorry horse across, never mind, good song, just not for that movie, same way Quentin gave us rap music for Django).
My advice, dear critic, is to read indiewire, criticwire, rottentomatoes and the rest and see how reviews are written. Your review is an essay, one cohesively written piece of art that appraises a fellow art form. It must in itself be worth its weight, not denigrate another’s art while it in itself sorely lacks in form, standard, style and consistency. Enough with the formulaic style of writing that carries headings such as; SYNOPSIS, ORIGINALITY, PREDICTABILITY ( a movie review site bundled those two together and put them on a scale. Their math added up to 120 but they calculate in percentage none the less, so I’m wondering when percentages are calculated over 120) DIRECTING, ACTING, COSTUME etcetera. I am tayad (this again is me being deliberately Nigerian). I want to read your review and feel like it’s a conversation, not a freaking textbook titled ‘HOW I WATCHED AND APPRAISED FILM X.’ I’m not in film school, and if I were, your arguments reeks of personal opinion rather than universal agreeable truths (except of course when you say 80% of films made by certain directors are crap, indubitable truism that one). Dear Critic, the lazy movie reviews have to end, you really don’t have to watch all the movies nollywood spews, you’d be saner if you didn’t. when you do decide to watch and write a review on a nolloywood feature, a little foreknowledge such as notable works from the scriptwriter maybe, a little info about the director or the feature that you’re privy to, just a little something so we know you invested some form of energy into the endeavour where you can, and an appreciation of the art. Even Alaba people did not go into movie making solely for the money, some of us have deluded ourselves into believing that a real job where we punch time clocks is not our calling, suffer through our insufferable masterpieces, we hope to get better (waving at Tchidi Chikere), one day that is.
Why are film Critics even more important now than ever, the reason is so obvious it shouldn’t even be said aloud. Internet. DoBox, Afrinolly, Iroko are all jostling for a permanent allotment of the cyber pie that grows bigger and bigger, with data cost soon to come down, thank you SMILE, and people like me hoping to offer H.265 CODEC before it becomes that mainstream-Netflix already streams 4K content via said codec though, watching movies online will become similar to a pay TV subscription, not to mention LTE-A or Japan wanting to bring us 5G, or was it China’s HUAWEI? The internet will be quite the hub and the critics’ review will have a direct impact on who watches what on the net seeing as I can load up a page to read a review of a movie or a current series airing on some online TV site and then decide if I will waste bandwidth watching said content. Dear critic, you will become the reason why some people may not watch a certain film or rush off to the cinema wanting to see a movie, wield that power well, don’t put me off with one line summaries and reviews anyone who watched the movie while updating their twitter bio would write. Eventually, seek to get closer to Nollywood, create a culture where filmmakers can confidently send you links or mails for you to watch and appraise their work before it’s released, be honest, not patronizing and selling us misleading information because the filmmaker paid you to (Hi, Linda). Your art will thrive in doing so, and so will the filmmakers, and maybe with you breathing down their necks they will eventually get better (Yo Tchidi ma maihn!) or not make some glaring school boy errors (Baba Teco Ben… I no fit shout).
So there it is, I know you lovely guys watch the movies, so we don’t have to-some blogs tagline oh!- but your reviews seem to indicate scant attention or lack of passion towards film and TV, what parallels with modern society exist in the Hunger Games, what subtle nuance is being sold to us through the camera? sometimes, or rather most times the audience wants to relate to this, whether it’s a flight of fancy, fantasy, action adventure, comedy or romance, the relatability(eh ehm) to real life challenges (no matter how exaggerated) is what resonates with audienes. Spell it out for the audience who scroll through junk in varying degrees of decomposition on the internet to finally find you, seeking knowledge and at the end, whether it is a great or bad movie, tell them to com see the part where the filmmaker at least got something right.
P.S Dear Critic, sometimes the audience will totally love something you totally hate, like Tyler Perry’s movie adaptation of the Marriage Counselor(They called it one long name, temptations, confessions of a marriage counselor or so) or Think Like A Man Too. Sometimes they just want banal, numb, entertainment, suck it up and write another Review, your personal bias is your right.