Market Trails and Nollywood Trailers

Curator's Note

With ‘quality’, online platforms, and global audiences progressively central to Nollywood’s conceptual horizons, trailers are becoming more conspicuous in the quest for broader critical and commercial success. Trailers of October 1 (Kunle Afolayan, 2014), a period film, and Invasion 1897 (Lancelot Imasuen, 2014), a historical drama, both peripheral genres in Nollywood, engender meditations on how and to what degrees their intrinsic specificities and political vestiges can navigate variegated audiences and markets, more so, with questions of official and alternative histories, imperial and colonial relations, perspectives and parallels, revisiting and representation, condensing around issues of autonomy, agency and subjectivity.

October 1, reflexive of Nigeria’s independence day, in 1960, engages tropes of the past, fictive and factual, through a mystery-thriller framework. Fittingly, the murders at its conceptual hinge, juxtaposed with anxieties about public safety, solving the crime, political dilemmas, and euphoria of imminent independence, haunt the epochal moment. Through frenetic editing, suspense and shifting spectatorial positioning, this trailer, enmeshing certain social-historical processes of ‘nation’, won top honors at the 2013 International Movie Trailers Festival Awards, while the film won awards, for ‘Best Feature’, ‘Best Screenplay, and ‘Best Actor’, at the Africa International Film Festival, in 2014.

Inspired by the infamous British annexation of the Benin kingdom and forcible exile of its legendary monarch, Oba Ovonramwen, the Invasion 1897 trailer accentuates tensions around issues of sovereignty and resistance, loss and reclamation. Its rhetoric of identification, include dramatic high-points, epic overtones, graphic sequences redolent of the encounter’s systemic violence, voice-over commentaries which problematize identification with the British, and a hyperbolic pitch of the film as: The Deposition of the Last African King. Here, political, legal and moral discourses converge, underscoring the narrative’s historical and transnational significance.

The international cast, aesthetics, structures, and nationalistic inflections of these trailers showcase defining features of their respective narratives in bids to capture the attention and stoke the imagination of disparate spectators, and, crucially, arouse a desire to see the ‘fuller picture’. With wider theatrical runs still elusive for Nollywood, the trailers are, arguably, more aimed at film festivals, digital communities and distribution circuits. Significantly, this year’s FESPACO, themed ‘African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era’, has, a first for Nollywood, Render to Caesar (Desmond Ovbiagele, 2014), in feature-length competition. Whether they mark propitious thresholds for Nollywood, challenging African cinema’s exhibition and distribution quandaries, are, however, as contingent as the consumption and curatorial practices they may engender.

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