The enthusiasm of Nollywood Babylon is infectious. Focusing on the widely unknown (in the U.S., at least) Nigerian film industry, this documentary speeds its way through seventeen years of their film history. Starting in 1992, the video market in Lagos has provided financial opportunities for hundreds of actors and directors making thousands of films. Clocking in at about 2500 films a year, Nigeria has the third largest film industry (the first and second being the U.S. and India, respectively). Seeing the passion that these artists share for films showing the real experiences of Nigerians, and the love of Nollywood itself, is inspiring for independent filmmakers everywhere, struggling to get their little pictures made.
The star of the film, the Nollywoood director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen (known as "Da Guv'nor in Lagos), had made 157 movies when "Nollywood Babylon" started filming. By now I'm sure that number has increased drastically as he directs two more during the four-month period the documentary crew was filming. Lancelot is a quirky, very serious, loveable character. Watching him scream at his grip in one scene and then comfort his actress after an emotionally draining performance, you can see just how much he cares about this business.
I only wish the film made an effort to slow down a bit more than its star. The directors, Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal estimated some 9000 cuts, and that seems to exclude the cuts made within the Nollywood film clips themselves. This MTV-style editing makes watching the film a little bit like wiping out under a giant wave. The new information hits you full speed, and you're left with a mouth full of sand and an unsatisfying feeling of accomplishment. Each Nollywood poster shown in a split second has a wealth of information just beyond our grasp and the effect is a bit nauseating. The style matches the subject, but in this case a moment of silence, or even a single extra second spent on each shot would be very much appreciated. Perhaps the responsibility is placed on the audience to sit up, pay attention, and do our own research later.
The Gates (HBO)
Maysles Films in association with HBO Documentary Films and CVJ
Filmmakers explored how the now-celebrated Central Park installation by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude came to be in this memoir of a creative process that survived a 24-year odyssey of bureaucratic hoop-jumping.
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Theater of War
Backstage insights into art and ideology
''Theater of War'' follows a 2006 production of ''Mother Courage and Her Children'' that starred Meryl Streep. ''Theater of War'' follows a 2006 production of ''Mother Courage and Her Children'' that starred Meryl Streep. (MICHAL DANIEL)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 27, 2009
In the summer of 2006, thousands of theatergoers, stargazers, and people who enjoy Marxist German classics braved impossible heat to attend a production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" in Central Park. It was more hoopla than Brecht ordinarily receives, even by the standards of the New York stage. But this Public Theatre production was somewhat out of the ordinary. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline were starring in a new translation by Tony Kushner, directed by George C. Wolfe with music by Jeanine Tesori. And it was free.
John W. Walter, a film editor and documentary maker, was around to film the show's rehearsals. But it wasn't just Streep's star that struck him. It was Brecht's. "Theater of War," Walter's invigorating film, asserts the value of Brecht - and the power of art - for our troubled times.
The film combines backstage footage, interviews with Kushner, Wolfe, Tesori, and Streep, and conversations with two professors, one of whom worked alongside Brecht, the other who teaches his work. What comes of all this is both a film of ideas (call it "Everyday Brecht") and a modest journey into the dramatist's life. More than once the two merge into living philosophy.
Much of the playwright's biography is explained by Tufts University's Jay Cantor, who discusses how Marxism presented Brecht the intellectual rigging for his political anger. The film applies the basic revelations of Marxism (work is tyranny, labor effaces personality, that sort of thing) to the Public's production itself. Initially there is reason to fear. Jeremy Lydic, who oversaw the props and wrote his thesis on "Mother Courage," and Marina Draghici, who managed the costumes, do their jobs while Cantor explains that our work is who we are.
It's not drudgery we see, though, but a kind of personal pride in craft. Eventually Cantor, who has allowed himself to stare down the Marxist rabbit hole and seems the glummer for it, moves on to the productive uses of Marxism, which, under these circumstances, have more to do with the effectiveness of collective action. That, after all, is how art is usually made.
Brecht wrote "Mother Courage" as an antiwar jeremiad, and the play's enduring strength is the ugly reach of its moral quagmire. Mother Courage runs a profitable mobile canteen for soldiers that she continues to haul even after the war has cost her her three children. Death is tragic, but so, in a sense, is this woman's will to live. Walter sees in the Central Park production a parallel to contemporary military conflicts. American troops were spending another year in Iraq, and Israel had just invaded Lebanon.
"Theater of War" is perfectly Brechtian in form - "action and commentary on the action," as someone points out. Much of the most stirring commentary comes from Streep, who objects to the general idea of filming rehearsals (process looks like "bad acting," she says), but appears to go with the Brechtian flow, letting us sees flubs, sweat, and tears.
Walter juxtaposes her grueling, almost deranged performance with footage of the legendary performance by Brecht's wife, Helene Weigel, who appears to be twice as formidable while doing half the work. These backstage scenes explore the Brechtian urge to create and rebel. But the movie wonders whether creation is an adequately confrontational act. What is the value of art in times of strife? Should people be sitting in the theater or rioting in the streets? Walter's film reminds us that once there was a man whose work made no distinction between the two.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
By Maggie Overfelt, CNNMoney.com contributing writer
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The news this week that Blockbuster Video has hired advisors to explore "restructuring" options, which analysts say could include a bankruptcy filing, is bittersweet to the movie rental business's remaining indie stores.
They're likely to outlive the corporate Goliath that once crushed scores of smaller retailers beneath its blue-and-yellow onslaught of identical chain stores. But the same forces that seem to have doomed Blockbuster (BBI, Fortune 500) - mail-order DVDs and streaming online video - may kill off the entire industry.
John Koch, the founder of Cinema Revolution in Minneapolis, is fighting on all fronts to keep his business going. Sales started softening in the middle of last year, when high gas prices kept people from making the drive out to his store. To compensate, he moved to a new location in Minneapolis, with a higher rent but also a more diverse and artistic community. Koch hopes his new neighbors will better appreciate his selection of foreign and cult films; he also provides a haven for local filmmakers who need a venue to screen their movies.
Read the article at cnn.money.
New York, NY - March 12, 2009 - Lorber HT Digital has acquired the U.S. theatrical rights and public performance rights to the acclaimed documentary NOLLYWOOD BABYLON, co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, on the heels of the film's U.S. premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition. The deal was negotiated by Christina Rogers for the National Film Board and by Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon for Lorber HT Digital.
Lorber HT Digital will open NOLLYWOOD BABYLON theatrically at select venues in the second quarter of this year, and will also make it available to educational and cultural institutions. After the initial theatrical release, Lorber HT Digital will release the DVD to the consumer market on its Alive Mind label later in 2009.
Industry pioneer Richard Lorber, founder of Lorber HT Digital, comments on the acquisition, "NOLLYWOOD BABYLON celebrates the power of film to transform a culture and an industry. The explosion of Nigerian cinema over the last two decades is the reclaiming of African story-telling and culture by and for Africans. Nigeria is the new cultural center of Africa and Nollywood is the epicenter."
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls the film, "...an irresistible treatise on the Nigerian film industry..."
About The Film
NOLLYWOOD BABYLON chronicles the wild world of "Nollywood," a term coined in the early ‘90s to describe the world's fastest-growing national cinema, surpassed only by its Indian counterpart. The film delves first-hand into Nigeria's explosive homegrown movie industry, where Jesus and voodoo vie for screen time. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, known in Lagos as "Da Governor," is one of the most influential men in Nollywood. Undeterred by miniscule budgets, Da Governor is one of a cadre of resourceful filmmakers creating a garish, imaginative, and wildly popular form of B-movie that has frenzied fans begging for more. Among the bustling stalls of Lagos's Idumato market, films are sold, and budding stars are born. Creating stories that explore the growing battle between traditional mysticism and modern culture, good versus evil, witchcraft and Christianity, Nollywood auteurs have mastered a down-and-dirty, straight-to-video production formula that has become the industry standard in a country plagued by poverty. This burgeoning Nigerian film industry is tapping a national identity where proud Africans are telling their own stories to a public hungry to see their lives on screen. Peppered with outrageously juicy movie clips and buoyed by a rousing score fusing Afropop and traditional sounds, NOLLYWOOD BABYLON celebrates the distinctive power of Nigerian cinema as it marvels in the magic of movies.
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