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Kunle Afolayan bids to bring Nollywood cinema to the world

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blackpearl

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They're calling you "the Scorsese of Lagos" – no pressure then. That's what the New York Times recently headlined its piece, and Kunle Afolayan's ambitions to shake up the industry now known (more great expectations) as Nollywood. With three films under his belt since he started directing in 2005 – which, by frantic west-African standards, makes him more the Kubrick of Lagos – the 38-year-old has become a byword for elevated quality: shooting on 35mm, releasing in cinemas, trying to improve on horribly stilted Nollywood formulas that seem to place more emphasis on gaudy soft furnishings than on dialogue and camerawork.

Actually, Afolayan would prefer it if you called him the Mel Gibson of Lagos. "I always show Apocalypto to my crew, because of the language thing. I say to them: 'You don't necessarily have to shoot your film in English for it to be good. You can do Swahili, you can do any language, you can even do no language at all.'" Gibson's not an obvious renaissance-man idol – but crossing boundaries, having international aspirations, is the path forward for Afolayan and what is becoming known as the New Nollywood. The old Nollywood had no time for film festivals. When I speak to the director, he's just touched down in Amsterdam for the Africa in the Picture jamboree, where he is shopping his comedy drama Phone Swap. Next up is London, for the Film Africa festival.

"I'm not saying it's the perfect film. I'm not saying it's the best thing that's ever happened to Nollywood. But it's totally different to what everyone else has done," Afolayan says of Phone Swap. It goes without saying that it's shot on film – a must for any hope of international distribution. And it has what sounds like the sort of sparky commercial premise that will give it high-concept traction beyond Nigerian borders: a country girl and a Lagos businessman fall in love in absentia after they pick up each other's BlackBerrys at the airport. Afolayan says he tried to steer clear of the overripe visual humour and slapstick that has dogged traditional Nollywood comedy.

Out of Africa: Kunle Afolayan bids to bring Nollywood cinema to the world | Film | guardian.co.uk
 
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