Nollywood's Best Nigerian Directors Working Today

Film crew on a Nollywood movie set
Film crew on a Nollywood movie set | © Aimee Corrigan / WikiCommons
Photo of Lize Okoh
2 October 2018

Second to Bollywood, Nollywood is reported to be the world’s largest movie industry by volume, producing over a thousand movies annually. These are some of the industry’s most exciting and distinguished auteurs.

Nigeria’s movie industry: a background

Having started off being referred to as ‘home videos’ by Nigerians, Nigeria’s movie industry is now a globally recognised entertainment source. Emerging in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990s and early 2000s that the Nigerian movie industry, now better known as Nollywood, gained its fame and prominence. It has been suggested that this boom could be due not only to filmmakers taking advantage of new technology, but also to Nigerians in the diaspora being able to connect with what was going on in the country as they travelled with film recordings (often pirated) on CDs, often consisting of several movies on one disc.

Today, Nollywood is worth $5.1 billion and makes up 5% of Nigeria’s GDP. With this increased interest and ever growing profitability of African arts and entertainment, more Nigerians are seeing filmmaking as a viable profession – gone are the days when the older generation frowned upon pursuing a career in the arts over white collar jobs. Today’s Nigerian filmmakers are as bold as they are creative. Here’s our list of the best contemporary Nigerian directors working today.

The best contemporary Nigerian directors

Dolapo Lola Adeleke (LowlaDee)

Dolapo Lola Adeleke, better known as LowlaDee, is a 28-year-old filmmaker who is brazenly making her mark in the Nigerian film industry. Although she studied Mass Communications at Covenant University in Nigeria, her filmmaking career officially began in 2011 after she graduated from university and registered her production company – LowlaDee Productions Africa. In an interview with Bella Naija, LowlaDee who is also a writer, editor and producer, recounts how her love for filmmaking was inspired by her ordeal after a car accident as a teenager. While in her second year of university, she began to take webcam pictures of herself (as a way to document the changes occuring on her face caused by the accident) and later on, of friends, adding music and other effects to the footage. Soon after, other students and arts departments were calling on her to create ads for their campaigns.

A self-taught filmmaker, Lowla Dee’s first official foray into directing and producing was ‘Brave’, a short film released in 2014. In 2015, she produced a television movie called ‘A Place Called Happy’ starring Blossom Chukwujekwu and Sika Osei. Her third offering was a highly acclaimed pan African web/TV mini-series called ‘This Is It’ which aired from 2016 – 2017 and is still available on its Youtube channel. Also in 2017 she directed and co-produced another television drama called ‘Entangled’, and a television format film commissioned by IrokoTV, one of Africa’s leading online streaming platform that provides on-demand Nigerian films.

In 2015, LowlaDee was nominated for the Best Film Director category for ‘Brave’, at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards. In 2016, she was for nominated for Film Director Of The Year at the EbonyLifeTV Sisterhood Awards Africa for her achievement with ‘This Is It’.

In 2017, she was nominated for New Media in the prestigious Future Awards Africa, and in March 2018, she was listed as Leading Ladies Africa’s ‘100 Most Inspiring Women In Nigeria.’

Jadesola Osiberu

Jadesola Osiberu is a writer, producer, and director of Isoken, the third highest grossing Nigerian film of 2017. Other works in her directorial portfolio include the highly acclaimed TV series ‘Gidi Up’, ‘Rumour Has It’ and ‘The Juice’, which she created on Ndani TV, an online entertainment platform that celebrates and showcases the best African art, fashion, film, business, sports and lifestyle.

Osiberu graduated with a degree in Computer and Systems Engineering from the University of Manchester, but shortly after working as a Software Engineer at Neptune Software, left to pursue her passion and studied for a Masters in Media and Communications.

Her career in filmmaking was initiated when she joined the Digital Marketing team at GTBank and pitched the idea of Ndani TV which at the time was the first-of-its-kind content marketing strategy that solidified the bank’s position as one of the most digitally innovative Nigerian banks.

Osiberu directed and produced her first feature film ‘Isoken’, starring Dakore Akande, Joseph Benjamin and Marc Rhys in 2017 and has been announced as the director and producer of a new movie ‘Nigerian Trade’, a fast-paced crime drama inspired by true events into one of the most lucrative forms of crime in Nigeria – kidnap for ransom.

Also in 2017, she founded Tribe85 Productions, with the vision of telling African stories to a global audience.

Biyi Bandele

Biyi Bandele is a UK-based novelist, playwright and filmmaker. With dreams of becoming a writer, Bandele won his first short-story competition at the age of 14. He was born on October 13, 1967 in the northern state of Kaduna, where he grew up until he left at the age of 18 and moved to Lagos. In 1987, he went to study drama at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and two years later, won the International Student Play Script competition for his play, ‘Rain’. In 1990, he moved to London with two novel manuscripts which were published and later commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre.

In 1997, he adapted Chinua Achebe’s landmark novel ‘Things Fall Apart‘ for stage production. In 2013 he made his directorial film debut with Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s celebrated historical novel ‘Half of a Yellow Sun‘ starring a stellar international cast that included Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, which was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

His most recent rendition, ‘Fifty’, a Nigerian romantic drama was included in the 2015 London Film Festival. In 2013, he co-wrote and directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series, ‘Shuga‘.

His next feature film, ‘The Man Died’, based on the prison memoirs of Wole Soyinka is currently in development, as is a Fela Kuti biopic.

Ishaya Bako

Ishaya Bako is a film-director and screenwriter born on December 30, 1986 in the northern state of Kaduna, Nigeria. In 2008 he moved to London to study at the London Film School.

Bako initially studied for a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems at Covenant University. It was during his third year at university that he developed his deep love for filmmaking after creating and performing with his theatre group friends called the Eden Family. A year later, during a trip from Port Harcourt to his home in Kaduna, Bako was involved in a near-fatal car accident. The year after this incident, he began soul searching and put great thought into what he really wanted to do with his life – as a result, he steered his career in a different direction, realising that filmmaking was something he loved and saw himself doing for the rest of his life.

After two years at the London Film School, he graduated in 2010 and presented his graduation film, ‘Braids on a Bald Head’ which later won him an award at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. It was also screened at the Cambridge Film Festival and the Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival in France in February 2011.

Since his first short film, Bako has gone on to write and direct more socially conscious films including ‘Silent Tears and ‘Henna’. His documentary ‘Fuelling Poverty’ in 2012, a response to the fuel subsidy protests in Nigeria, narrated by Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka garnered him headline attention and was subsequently banned by the Nigerian Censors Board.

In 2015, Bako directed his first feature film ‘Road to Yesterday’, with Nollywood heavyweight Genevieve Nnaji. His second, ‘The Royal Hibiscus Hotel’, was screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

Tope Oshin

Tope Oshin is a television and film director, producer and casting director. Oshin initially attended the University of Ilorin to study economics, but later abandoned the course and moved to Lagos State University where she completed a degree in Theatre Arts, TV & Film Production. Later developing a greater passion for filmmaking, she furthered her education in Directing at Colorado Film School of the Community College of Aurora, Denver.

Oshin has directed several series including ‘Hotel Majestic’, ‘Tinsel’, MTV’s ‘Shuga’ (season 6), and ‘The Apprentice Africa’. She has also directed several short films including ‘The Young Smoker’, ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, and ‘New Horizons’. Oshin is also well known for the feature films, ‘Journey To Self’, ‘Fifty’ (which broke box office records upon release in December 2015, taking N20 million (USD$54,890) in the first weekend) and ‘The Wedding Party 2′ which as of 2018, is the highest grossing Nigerian film.

In 2016, she produced and directed the documentary, ‘Amaka’s Kin: The Women Of Nollywood’, which addresses issues facing Nigerian female directors and serves as a memorial to prominent filmmaker Amaka Igwe, who died in 2014.

Kunle Afolayan

Kunle Afolayan is an actor, producer and director. He studied economics and later worked in a bank before enrolling in the New York Film Academy. Hailed by The New York Times as ‘The Scorsese of Lagos,’ Kunle Afolayan is a budding star of a younger generation of Nigerian filmmakers that marks the transitioning of Nollywood into a more mature industry. Afolayan’s film ‘Phone Swap‘, which follows a high-flying businessman and a village girl who accidentally swap phones and flight destinations, was screened at London’s Film Africa Festival. According to one reviewer, the film is ‘an uproariously funny comedy of manners and misunderstanding, which drew from classic Hollywood screwball comedies, and infused a schematic plot with a cosmopolitan vibrancy’. Afolayan’s warm and gentle interpretation, shows the cultural divisions within Nigerian society, highlighting the contrast of village and urban cultures. In 2011, Afolayan represented the Nigerian film industry at the Subversive Film Festival. In May 2013, ‘Phone Swap’ premiered in France at the first edition of Nollywood Week Paris and won the Public Choice Award. Other films by Afolayan include ‘Irapada‘ and ‘The Figurine (Araromire)‘ which won five major awards in the African Film Academy.

Newton Aduaka

Born in 1966 in eastern Nigeria, Aduaka has played an important role in promoting Nigerian film both regionally and internationally. Originally studying engineering in England, Aduaka later pursued a degree in Video Arts at the London International Film School. He produced several short films and set up his own production studio called Granite FilmWorks. Aduaka’s debut feature film Rage won him widespread acclaim and a national release in Britain. In 2007, his film Ezra won the coveted 2007 Etalon de Yenenga prize at FESPACO in Burkina Faso and also screened at the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the film, Aduaka follows the schisms caused by civil war in Sierra Leone, especially the plight of child soldiers and their daily struggle to return to normal life despite the scars left by war.

Jeta Amata

Jeta Amata’s film Black November tackles political and geopolitics head on. Its title is a reference to the execution of Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who led a campaign against multinational oil companies. Addressing the dark history of Western exploitation of Nigeria’s rich oil resources and official corruption in the country, Amata’s film is an overt move to break out of the stereotype of low-quality, apolitical cheapness that surrounds Nollywood titles. Amata’s other films include Game of Life, Alexa Affair and The Amazing Grace, a project in which he collaborated with Nick Moran to tell the story of John Newton, the British slave trader who became an abolitionist and wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

Zina Saro-Wiwa

Zina Saro-Wiwa is a multimedia installation artist as well as a filmmaker and former BBC journalist. Born in Nigeria and raised in the UK along with her twin sister Noo Saro-Wiwa, author of Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. Zina Saro-Wiwa worked as a freelancer for the BBC from the age of 20; in 2004, she produced a documentary called Hello Nigeria!. Overtly taking its cue from the UK’s ‘Hello!’ Magazine, Saro-Wiwa’s film zooms into Nigeria’s celebrity culture and high society through Nigeria’s popular culture magazine Ovation. In 2008, Saro-Wiwa worked on This Is My Africa, which looks at the continent through a series of interviews, including with Yinka Shonibare and John Akomfrah. Since then, Saro-Wiwa has returned to her birth country to document the rise and eclecticism of Nollywood.

In addition to documentary and feature films, Saro-Wiwa is also an accomplished multimedia installation artist; a particularly poignant work is Sarogua Mourning, a performance video in which the artist confronts her inability to mourn the death of her father, prominent Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Zino Saro-Wiwa’s works examine the Nollywood phenomenon and Nigeria from the perspective of an outsider looking in, revealing her complicated relationship with the country.

*Originally written by Stephanie Chang.

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