It took roughly five years for Jamie Meltzer to complete his first feature-length documentary, Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story, about a quirky publishing racket for aspiring singer-songwriters. By time it premiered in 2003, Meltzer was spent. He knew there had to be a better, cheaper, more efficient form of film production that didn't require five years of one's life and such a large concentration of resources. Then he found out about Nollywood, the burgeoning film industry in Nigeria. Falling right behind the United States and India in terms of the number of films it churns out, Nollywood is a hair-trigger, pell-mell world populated by hundreds of Ed Woods and Roger Carmens. Most of them mint films at the rate of about one every three weeks, with a shoestring budget and no government help. They dabble in action, adventure, sci-fi, and fantasies, finding creative ways to use special effects and suspend disbelief. Nollywood filmmakers put their products on DVD, hawk them at flea markets, and usually connect with an audience. Meltzer was intrigued. "They've created a vibrant industry that does what indie filmmakers can't do in the US," he said.
Thus, Meltzer set out to find the crème de la crème of Nollywood film directors. Word-of-mouth brought him to two astounding men. The first, Chico Ejiro, is so generative that fans affectionately call him "Mr. Prolific." Rumor has it that he once made two films simultaneously, with one camera pointing one way and another camera pointing the other, said Meltzer. The second, Izu Ojukwu, has such drive and ingenuity that Meltzer compares him to Thomas Edison. Self-taught from the ground up, Ojukwu made his own projector from scratch as a kid. As he grew older and matured as a filmmaker, he started developing his own style of composition, much like a great Hollywood auteur. Ojukwu takes a very considered approach to his craft, and his films are remarkably well-shot, said Meltzer: "He represented the future of Nollywood that really could rise to a high level in terms of storytelling and visual aesthetic." Thus, Ojukwu became the heart of Meltzer's 2007 documentary Welcome to Nollywood, which offered a broad overview of the industry and then honed in on its most enduring directors. Overall, it portrayed the industry as being "fast, cheap, and out of control," but also about integrity. Meltzer said he tried to replicate the Nollywood methodology while making this film and failed miserably — it ultimately took about two years.
Welcome to Nollywood screens Thursday, June 25, as part of the Temescal Street Cinema series. This year's series is curated by East Bay filmmaker Arne Johnson, whose documentary Girls Rock showed last year. It runs Thursdays through July 16, featuring a different local director each night, culminating with a program of shorts. Movies screen at 8:30 p.m. at 49th & Telegraph, on the Bank of the West Building. Live music and popcorn provided. Free. TemescalDistrict.org/cinema
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