Ola Balogun, 
pioneer of Nigerian cinema


Ola Balogun (b. 1945) is a unique figure in Nigerian cinema. In the 1970s and 1980s, he influenced the film industry in his country like no other person and paved the way for the Nollywood boom that began in the early 1990s. The fact that he is virtually forgotten outside of Nigeria nowadays is also a function of the fact that many copies of his films have disappeared. Only five of his ten feature-length films are currently available, many of them in a fragile condition. Thanks to the initiative of the Filmkollektiv Frankfurt, which presented Ola Balogun’s films in that city in 2015, a large part of Balogun’s cinematic oeuvre is accessible again for the first time. We are extremely pleased to be able to show the five feature films and a selection of his shorter documentaries at the Arsenal.

After obtaining a degree in literature, Ola Balogun completed his studies at the IDHEC film school in Paris, where he also made his first feature film, ALPHA, in 1972. He later returned to Nigeria and made documentary and feature films there, in other African countries and in Brazil. In the absence of a technical and financial infrastructure in Nigeria, he founded his own production company, Afrocult Foundation, and personally organised the screenings of his films. The films are often exuberant, full of passion, uniting a wide variety of influences in a unique manner. Aside from clearly political films, which address the freedom struggles against colonial power and the connections between Nigeria and Brazil wrought by the slave trade, he also made enjoyable entertainment films modelled on the popular Yoruba Travelling Theatre. Apart from English, he also made films in Yoruba, and created the very first film in the Igbo language, the unfortunately lost “Amadi”. Music plays a central role in all of his films, often also assuming a narrative function. His films always focus on the cultural and human richness of the African continent, seeking to provide his country with images of itself. Ola Balogun did not simply make films, he also wrote books and plays. He now lives as a musician in Benin.

AJANI-OGUN (Nigeria 1976, 13.1., introduction: Gary Vanisian) was Nigerian cinema’s first box office hit and incorporates the culture of the Yoruba Travelling Theatre. This very popular theatrical form, which emerged in the 1940s and combined music and dance with expressive acting and folkloric elements, gave Ola Balogun an opportunity to address a broad audience. The titular hero Ajani-Ogun is a young hunter who tries to regain his late father’s land, which had been wrested from his mother by a corrupt official. In the process, he must fight against traditional authorities as well as modern corruption. AJANI-OGUN was made in collaboration with the well-known theatre-maker Duro Ladipo, who also wrote the music that was released on LP at the same time as the film.