Nollywood and Hollywood will come together this year for the first Nigerian Intl. Film Summit during the American Film Market in the Loews Santa Monica.
The event brings together some of Nigeria’s top exhibitors, distributors, producers and movie stars with their Hollywood counterparts for what founder Ijeoma Onah hopes will be an opportunity to spark dialogue on how the two industries can work together.

“The gap between Hollywood and Nollywood is closing,” says Onah, who previously managed Africa relations for the AFM, and helped establish the first Nigerian pavilion at Mipcom. “We’re looking at how to bridge that gap.”

The summit looks to educate foreign investors on the growth potential of the Nigerian market, while also exploring opportunities to distribute its films globally. A pitch session will feature projects in development that are searching for foreign co-producers.

Keynote addresses will be delivered by Nigerian culture minister Lai Mohammed, and Ben Murray-Bruce, founder of the Silverbird Group, which opened Nigeria’s first modern cinema in 2004. Among other featured speakers will be helmer Kunle Afolayan, thesp Joke Silva and comedian Ayo Makun, better known by his stage name AY.

Africa’s most populous nation offers a tantalizing prospect for Hollywood, eager to tap into a market that’s turned its homegrown Nollywood industry into a global phenomenon.
But for many, the challenges of doing business in Nigeria can be daunting, whether it’s battling corruption, stamping out piracy or weathering currency fluctuations. Others might simply want to avoid the growing pains that come with investing in a relatively undeveloped market.

“I know there are weaknesses, I know that there are challenges,” says Onah. “But it’s time for Hollywood to look at how to do some collaborations with the local industry.”

While Nollywood built its reputation on the strength of its straight-to-DVD, low-budget moviemaking formula, the three-day event in Santa Monica will shine a spotlight on a film biz that has steadily matured in recent years.

Though local helmers continue to churn out such low-brow fare as “Barren Marriage,” “Hit and Run Lovers” and “The Humble Wife,” a growing number of ambitious filmmakers are elbowing their way onto the big screen.

When the Nigerian box office smashed records in 2016, it was buoyed by hits including “The Wedding Party,” Nigeria’s highest-grossing film of all time, as local movies took home nearly 30% of the industry’s 3.5 billion naira (around $9.8 million) haul.

That number is sure to rise. While economic uncertainty makes it impossible to predict the industry’s ceiling, what remains clear in the short term is that there’s plenty of room for growth.

“Now that Nollywood is coming to the theaters, it’s looking more and more congested,” says Joy Efe Odiete, CEO of distrib Blue Pictures. “There are not enough screens for all of this content to be shown.”

For a country that got it first multiplex just over a decade ago, Nigeria is slowly playing catch-up, with around 30 modern cinemas now scattered across the country. In a nation of 180 million, though, screen penetration is still abysmally low.

That means there’s plenty of upside for optimists. “There’s a massive potential there,” says Craig Shurn, CEO of Part Two Media, and a board director and adviser to Nigeria’s largest theater chain, Filmhouse Cinemas, and its production and distribution arm, FilmOne. While economic instability has slowed the company’s expansion plans, Filmhouse has been aggressively moving into Nigeria’s second-tier cities, looking to meet a need for more screens.

There are also encouraging signs overseas. Shurn says FilmOne is in talks with two U.S. theater chains to bring Nigerian movies to U.S. screens, and Netflix has steadily beefed up its acquisition of Nigerian films.

He adds that FilmOne, which is gearing up for the release of “The Wedding Party 2,” is discussing co-productions with U.S. studios. It’s part of an evolving relationship with a country that, he says, “was not on the Hollywood radar at all” until recently.

“Over the last three years, that has changed,” says the former Sony and Odeon/UCI U.K. exec. “Studios are seeing … the potential.”