He was from the very beginning inclined to intellection and propelled all around him towards rounded education. Professor Jude Akudinobi of the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, clearly set forth at dawn, as Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka would put it. Just after the end of the Biafra War, when I was in primary school, I can vividly remember how he bought me my first novel. He was then a student of Christ the King College, Onitsha. He took his brothers then in primary school and my good self to Chanrai Supermarket and asked us to pick any novel of our choice, which he promptly paid for. It is indeed remarkable that the novel I chose was The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. I thus read the book before I watched the film starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, even though I now know that the film was shot before the book was written! I believe his buying that book for me mystically laid the foundation for him excelling in film studies!
Please, this is not a joking matter, as we say here. Prof Jude Akudinobi clocked 60 on Sunday, June 4, in this year of Our Lord. It is not my meat here to deliver his esteemed biography here. It only suffices to put on record a bit of his hip and contemporary ideas on the film industry. He has deeply studied Hollywood in America and has done his bit in promoting the Nigerian Nollywood. He straddles both worlds and pointedly informs that “not every film in Hollywood is Oscar material!” He argues that the somewhat random priding of Hollywood over Nollywood does not take into account the plenteous turkeys produced within the ambit of the American film terrain.
The growth of Nollywood is dear to him, as he stresses: “There is the looming realization, oblivious to some, perhaps, that the industry has reached a pivotal phase and in order to survive and thrive has to reinvent itself. Doing this, however, requires revisiting the entrepreneurial dynamism of the founding moments with a view to adapting some of its prized elements to the exigencies of a more structured marketplace.”
According to Akudinobi, “In examining various film cultures from China, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, the US, and India, to wit, covering the globe, it has to be noted that China, for instance, has no conventional film rating system. There, films are either passed for general exhibitions or banned outright, with no clear guidelines for the filmmakers, except, perhaps, that stories involving the supernatural are, generally, prohibited, along with those considered politically sensitive. In Britain, scenes involving racism, violence, and suicide, for instance, get much closer scrutiny, and tougher ratings. Notably, the Mel Gibson feature, Passion of the Christ, a religious film that received an ‘R’ rating in the US (for violence), was banned in China, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia but did tremendous business in the United Arab Emirates, and was released in Italy with the equivalent of ‘G’ (that is, a general audience) rating. In Britain, a film may get a much tougher rating for its video edition because it may be viewed at home and accessible to those, especially minors, to whom it had been previously restricted. In the US where film vetting is ‘voluntary’, films with tougher theatrical ratings may be released on DVD, later, without any rating or breaking the law. The catch, though, is that theatres would be hard pressed to touch an un-rated film and most filmmakers would fight the NC-17, which severely limits the potential audience and, importantly, box-office returns. From a related angle, the classification guidelines may help filmmakers, if they so desire, to better identify and target specific demographic categories.”
He addresses the issue of the rampant use of the supernatural in Nollywood movies thusly: “Most of what informs those types of films, whether one likes them or not, emanate from indigenous worldviews, newspaper headlines, and, of course, commercial calculations. As such, they are intrinsically part of the national, cultural milieu. So, the censuring ‘image-of-the-nation’ argument can only go so far. Banning such films, as some have called for, would be clutching at shadows rather than the substance of things. All societies have cultural paradoxes and Nigeria is no exception. However, my issue with those types of films is that, more often, complex realities are whittled down to very lurid simplifications.”
The new Nollywood, in his view, ought not to just be about production gloss, as he avers: “A film’s production gloss or high budget does not necessarily guarantee ‘professionalism’, ‘quality’ or, crucially, commercial success. A film may be a critical hit and still flop commercially. In all, a mix of elements should count, including creative merits of the film as art and entertainment, how it is positioned in the marketplace and resonates with audiences across the board.”
Akudinobi does not believe in the placing of many restrictions on who can participate in moviemaking. His ringing words: “Well, policing creativity, especially who may engage in it, runs counter to the national constitution, basic human rights, freedom of expression, making a living, etc. So, conceivably, individuals and guilds would be embroiled in protests, legal challenges, and, with the power and reaches of new media technologies, a global outcry that would waste time, scarce resources, and imperil co-production prospects, thus spurring runaway productions. Coined by the American film industry, the term ‘runaway productions’ refers to Hollywood productions which, for a number of reasons, like cheaper labor, tax incentives, production costs, favorable exchange rates, are shot in more amenable locations, like Canada, costing the US billions in lost revenues. If there are institutional restrictions in Nigeria, film-makers will, predictably, hop across borders to Benin Republic, Cameroon, or Ghana, shoot films, release them from there, destabilizing Nollywood’s distribution points, depriving Nigeria of billions, thus laying the foundation, however gradual, for the industry’s undoing.”
Nigeria definitely needs Prof Jude Akudinobi as a technocratic guide to the nascent film industry. Having just clocked 60, he is indeed poised at the right age to make hay as a teacher of light.