“Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” – Roger Ebert
The demise of the world acclaimed film critic, Roger Ebert, who passed on at 70 after a long haul battle with cancer brings to light the power and influence of the critic on our tastes. For near fifty years, movie goers, auteurs, producers and newspaper editors cared about the opinion of one rather genial and opinionated Chicagoan concerning a particular film. His influence was so pervading that his trademark thumps up was keenly awaited and his stars brightened or dimmed the fortunes of many a film. A fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama eulogised, “Roger was the movies.”
For a bustling film industry (the third largest in the world), Nollywood lacks critics with the knowledge, the panache, the boldness and professionalism of proper film critics. How then does one sieve through the myriad of video releases that assail our eyes every day? How then does one delineate the artistic from the derivative? The critic is like a guide, pointing the direction to the stars…… and the black holes too.
In the early days of Nollywood, when the movies were still a novelty and the term Nollywood had not gained traction, several papers ran film reviews and there were even TV and radio shows critiquing the week’s offerings. The TV shows naturally mimicked Siskel and Ebert’s but a lack of passion, or drive or sponsorship or the general amateurishness of the industry ensured still birth.
In 1967, Roger Ebert was appointed the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. He took the beat and not only did he excel, he became the heart beat of the industry earning a Pulitzer and a Star on the Walk of Fame. Film awards have recently become popular in Nigeria. One wonders the rubric for awarding the prizes, one wonders if the films tick the boxes for critical acclaim. For many years now media students have wondered why our Nollywood ‘blockbusters’ never make it at film festivals, even the nearby FESPACO. Well I think we need specialists who will start rating our productions, assigning stars and giving thumbs up. And when necessary throwing in a bit of ‘bad mouth.’ That will certainly weed the field and mitigate the influence of upper iweka.
There is a niche for somebody as a Nollywood film critic. Roger that!