THE NEW YORUBA FILM INDUSTRY: FROM VHS TO NETFLIX AND CINEMA

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By Fidelis Duker


I have always wanted to write about the developmental trend of the New Yoruba film industry which I have told several colleagues wasn’t accidental rather a deliberate attempt at success. It is purely gratifying that the sector has deliberately put in place structures for its growth that we are seeing today.


The New Yoruba film industry, also known as Nollywood, has undergone a transformational journey over the years. From shooting low-budget movies on VHS tapes to producing high-quality and internationally acclaimed films like Jagun Jagun, Anikulapo, Agesikole and Orisa amongst others.


The industry’s growth in technical and artistic excellence has been remarkable. I will like to explore the evolution of the Yoruba film industry, highlighting the contributions of legendary filmmakers such as Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, and Moses Adejumo, while also showcasing the recent accomplishments of Kunle Afolayan, Femi Adebayo, Adebayo Tijanni, and Odunlade Adekola.


From the early years of Celluloid Films for Cinema, the Yoruba film industry was primarily focused on producing films for cinemas. Renowned filmmakers like Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, and Moses Adejumo (popularly known as Baba Sala) led the way, creating a legacy of quality filmmaking that laid the foundation for future generations with films like AIYE.TAXI DRIVER, JAIYESIMI, MOSEBOLATAN, amongst others


These visionary filmmakers shot their movies on celluloid, a process that required technical expertise and significant financial investment. Despite the challenges, their films showcased remarkable storytelling, cultural significance, and attention to detail.


These pioneers paved the way for the development of the New Yoruba film industry of late 80’s to early 90’s with the likes of late Muyideen Aromire, Adebayo Salami, Taiwo Hassan. Jide Kosoko playing active roles. They tried to set a high standard for artistic quality but funding was a challenge for that generation of filmmakers.


The Transition from Celluloid films to VHS production became a new wave as it emerged with the rise of video technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Yoruba film industry experienced a significant shift. Filmmakers now had access to affordable equipment for shooting and production.


This era introduced a new wave of Yoruba filmmakers majorly the likes of Tunde Alabi Hundeyin(Dudu), Tade Ogidan, and Tunde Kelani, who embraced the emerging Video  format on a higher technical quality with films like Iyawo Alhaji, Ti Oluwa Nile and Owo Blow amongst others. However, the majority of the Yoruba producers were still filming on low quality VHS formats. 


While the technical quality of the films might not have matched those shot on celluloid, this shift democratized the industry and made it more accessible to a wider audience.


As the popularity of Yoruba movies grew, so did the demand for improved production values and narrative prowess.


However there was a twist in production value with the new Millennium filmmakers who decided to rise above technical constraints to make films that can compete in the global space.


As the Yoruba film industry entered the new millennium, filmmakers began to embrace digital technology, revolutionizing the quality of their productions. This marked a tremendous advancement in both technical and artistic aspects.


Filmmakers like Kunle Afolayan, Femi Adebayo, and Adebayo Tijanni emerged during this period and raised the bar for quality storytelling and technical excellence in Yoruba cinema. Their movies, such as Kunle Afolayan’s “Anikulapo,” showcased enhanced cinematography, better editing techniques, and compelling narratives that resonated with both local and international audiences.


This development in recent years has led to the Yoruba film industry taking a giant leap and gaining access to modern distribution platforms like Netflix and gaining access to cinema screens worldwide. Odunlade Adekola, with his popular “Orisa” movie which has grossed over 100m in the Cinemas in one week are amongst the millennia Yoruba filmmakers that have contributed immensely to the industry’s growth.


This expansion has provided Yoruba filmmakers with a global stage to showcase their talents and stories. With improved production values, better storytelling techniques, and collaborations with renowned international directors and actors, Yoruba movies have gained international recognition and continue to captivate audiences beyond Nigeria’s borders.


The Yoruba film industry has come a long way from its humble beginnings, where filmmakers shot on VHS tapes or celluloid for cinema screens. The transition from VHS to embracing digital technology, combined with the artistic excellence of filmmakers like Kunle Afolayan, Femi Adebayo, Adebayo Tijanni, and Odunlade Adekola, etc has elevated the industry’s technical and artistic quality.


Today, Yoruba films are not just limited to Nigeria but have found a global audience through platforms like Netflix and cinema releases. This expansion has enabled the industry to share its rich cultural heritage while captivating audiences worldwide. As the Yoruba film industry continues to evolve, it remains poised to make even greater strides in the realms of technical innovation and storytelling excellence.


*Fidelis Duker, a Filmmaker and Media Practitioner writes from Calabar Nigeria