3D and the Nigerian Story(teller) in the age of the growing James Cameron-China liaison

When James Cameron’s Avatar opened in Lagos a couple of years ago,
there was no single 3D screen in the Nigerian film capital. Nor anywhere
else in the country. Fast forward to 2012 and there is at least one 3D
movie showing every week at theatres around the metropolis. Not only
did Mr Cameron’s mega-hit break BO records around the world, its
novelty and commercial success influenced a flood of similar films
from almost every director with a big-enough budget.

But the frenzy would not last forever and as many media reports from
the US state these days, the lure of 3D films is fast fading at least locally.
3D’s steady rise continues in the international market though. Probably
realising such opportunities outside his home country, Mr Cameron
chose to pitch his franchise in China as news reports show.

Would similar opportunities (the lure of lucre plus a large fan base dating from before Titanic) be enough to attract Mr Cameron to the Nigerian film market? For many here, 3D films remain some sort of luxury: accessible only at theatres by paying above-the-regular fare. Or by purchasing expensive state-of-the-art home entertainment systems that few can afford. It is uncertain if the cinemas in Nigeria make more money from 3D screenings than they do from regular movies though.  (See Copyright wars II: What “pirates” of Hollywood (read “American film-making pioneers”) share with Nollywood marketers)

For the Nigerian filmmakers, 3D production might not be a priority because it requires time and good funding, which most of them do not have. However, a few producers have dabbled into it. This was the case of Kajola, a Lagos-set Nigerian film shot partly in 3D and widely marketed as a futuristic sci-fi thriller.
For the film connoisseurs, Kajola’s trailers and sneak previews said it all, ‘AVOID THIS’ in huge red letters. The movie went to the cinemas but did not survive the first week of screening. For ‘officially unknown’ reasons, it was pulled off the bill and has hardly been heard of since. Except, perhaps, in sentences riddled with negative remarks. A rumoured budget of N120 million (roughly $800,000) was not enough to ensure a good plot and perfect CGI.

On the bright side, Obi Emelonye gets away with his minimalist use of 3D in his latest
offering,  Last Flight to Abuja. Even if some describe the use as “not so ‘special’ effects,”
Emelonye makes the most of it in reconstructing some scenes in the aviation disaster movie.

(See Why I am excited about flying through Dubai or Why I am excited not to fly through OR Tambo in Jozi)

Although a Nigerian engineer created the film’s 3D sequences, so far no Nigerian
film has been shot wholly in 3D. However, film producer Egor Efiok, was in Lagos recently
to publicise her upcoming 3D film titled Mystery Beads. The 3D option, she said, was
“to enhance the quality of the movie and make believable the scenes which would
have frightful effects on the audience.”

Dana Air was an airline based in Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria. On 3 June 2012, Dana Air’s McDonnell Douglas MD-83 operating as Flight 992 crashed into a two-story building at Iju Railway, Ishaga in Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos. All 153 people on board the aircraft were killed. Official website screenshot June 5, 2012.

With the clamour for international collaborations and training to enhance creativity in the
Nigerian film industry, initiatives like Mr Cameron’s China expedition might make it easier and cheaper for local filmmakers to experiment with 3D.

While there is that fear of failing at the box office, one artistic reason why 3D
filmmaking could be a hit with the African audience lies in the wealth of the African narrative. As African storytelling and filmmaking become more adventurous,
3D will be one of the options with which directors try to and CAN create specific worlds for
their films, especially when they attempt to re-enact the many fantastic and mystical
realms that abound in African oral and written literature. (See On the winding roads of African film distribution)

“We looked around the world for a place we could effect the most rapid change in the implementation of widespread 3-D entertainment and realized that China had the most fertile soil to make this happen,” James Cameron recently told the press.

Now, who will convince him to do business in Nigeria?

Derin Ajao is a Lagos-based Nigerian culture journalist and film critic (member of African Federation of Film Critics and FIPRESCI)


2 thoughts on “3D and the Nigerian Story(teller) in the age of the growing James Cameron-China liaison”

  1. This is really interesting. I think at the core of the use of 3D is a need to recreate worlds as you suggested in your reference to our rich African oral tradition. The truth is any attempt to just dazzle will meet with failure. There should be a genuine need to use 3D. Avatar, Transformers and Life of Pi are prime examples.

    I just directed an 8 min scenic 3D animated short. It’s a teaser for an upcoming movie about Nigeria. We hope it will be the reference point on how to use 3D.


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