This effort bore some fruit with Malawala Balawala and Bendu Sudan, becoming part of a new wave of Liberian film and TV production in the 1980s. They encouraged young aspiring filmmakers and actors to enter the industry, prior to the eruption of the Liberian civil conflict in 1990. Indeed, they embodied a purely Liberian take on how to translate the Liberian way of life onto film. Sadly this creative explosion was curtailed by the war.
Gladly, however, the explosion of the Nigerian video films in the 90s saw a concomitant surge in the audience for African films in Liberia and elsewhere. Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is now popularly known, grew quickly and became the second largest film industry in the world in terms of the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States, Hollywood and behind only India’s Bollywood. This rapid rise led to a phenomenal rise in the number of video clubs with patrons not minding to perch on wooden benches just to watch Nigerian films flicker on television screens. The good news arising from the Nollywood explosion is that young Liberians are once again trying their hands on filmmaking.
It should be recalled that at its advent, the film industry was small and amateurish, with only a handful of directors, actors, producers and crew; it was sheer passion and determination that pushed it forward from infancy. Josephine Blamo, Courage Borbor, Sylvanus Turay and Derick Snyder are some of the names that readily come to mind in this regard. They were all determined in their own way to provide a Liberian view of culture and society through film.
Josephine Blamo was one of the earliest pioneers and one of the youngest; producing and starring in Village Girl, when she was only 16 years old. She then went on to produce 70 × 7, Envy 1 & 2, UnCover 1 & 2, Dead Riches 1, 2 &3 and Hatred 1 & 2. She is currently living and working in the US while still dreaming of producing a masterpiece. However, her films and the others found themselves battling a new trend in Liberian society, which is that of adoption of mannerisms and characteristics as espoused in the now dominant Nigerian films.
Blamo had quickly noticed that “most of our people want to act, talk and dress like other African nationals due to the films they have watched, which is not good. It is imitation! Be proud of what you have, it takes a lot to be someone else, but it takes nothing to be yourself.” So she embarked on a journey to spread her films far and wide, chartering a bus and travelling from Sinoe to Lofa, showing her films in video clubs over the years before her travel to the US. A venture that she says was richly rewarded by the crowds and the audiences that turned up at each showing.
In spite of the early and continued enthusiasm for Liberian films, the sheer volume of production from Nigeria and Ghana - the two leading film centers in West Africa - overwhelmed local production, in terms of quantity, quality and star power. Every young woman wanted to be a Genevieve Nnaji and every young man wanted to be a Jim Iyke.
However, the Liberian film industry persevered, naming itself Lollywood and slowly but surely building up technical skills and expertise as well as star power to claim a larger share of the market. This gradual improvement saw Liberian professionals also leaving Liberia to participate in Nigerian and Ghanaian films, mostly as actors, but also as technicians. Their subsequent exposure and improved skills have been reflected in an improvement in quality and an upsurge in the production of Liberian films. Wherein today we have a new wave of Liberian film professionals making their way in Africa and the world; each in their own unique way pushing frontiers of how we capture ourselves and society in films.
Culled from The Capitol Insider Magazine