Nollywood, the second largest film industry in the world, has often been credited with showing outsiders a modern, urban, side of Africa. Like any film industry, Nollywood is comprised of many different genres and is often deeply entrenched in a certain set cinematic conventions.
In her short film, “Phyllis”, Zina Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian born, New York based filmmaker and artist, deconstructs what she describes as the “syntheticness of Nollywood”. In an interview with Camera in the Sun, Saro-Wiwa admits to being “obsessed” with the genre since she first discovered it and delved into it over 15 years ago. She projects that obsession onto Phyllis, the title character in her short film of the same name.
Phyllis is a moving and atmospheric portrait of a ‘psychic’ vampire, a woman obsessed with synthetic Nollywood dramas, that lives alone in Lagos, Nigeria. The central idea of this short experimental film is the practise and significance of wig-wearing in Nollywood film; a practise the director has invested with deeper psychological as well as science-fiction layers. Underpinning this central idea however is a critique of the unforgiving treatment of single women in Nollywood and Nigeria. The film is an example of what the director, Zina Saro-Wiwa, has termed “alt-Nollywood”, a genre that plays with and reworks certain narrative, stylistic and visual conventions of Nollywood. Phyllis explores the gothic possibilities of the Nollywood aesthetic creating a new kind of low-budget atmospheric film that is very much of Nollywood and yet subverts the genre. Using Nollywood to subvert Nollywood.
“Phyllis” was shot in Nigeria in 2010. It is currently screening at Brundyn Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa.