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Pirated Films From Nigeria Are Seized in Brooklyn
« on: November 14, 2010, 12:22:39 pm »

November 4, 2010
Pirated Films From Nigeria Are Seized in Brooklyn

For years, fans in Brooklyn have devoured films from Nigeria, paying $3 for bootlegged copies of the latest releases at utilitarian stores in the Flatbush neighborhood that distribute cellphones, calling cards and an evening’s entertainment.

The low-budget, pulp features on the shelves, with soap-opera story lines and names like “Key of Life” or “Lagos Boys” or “Last Chance” (Parts 1 and 2) come from what is known as Nollywood, one of the biggest and most prolific film industries in the world.

This week, officials seized more than 10,000 counterfeit DVDs from nine stores in Brooklyn in what prosecutors and representatives of the Nigerian film industry said would be a serious effort to regulate the trade of Nigerian films in the United States.

Calling the bootleggers “parasitic crooks,” the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, promised Thursday that “people will go to jail,” though his office announced no arrests.

The Nigerian film representatives said Brooklyn had become one of the largest Nollywood audiences outside of Africa, with the films becoming popular not just among African immigrants, but also among African-Americans and people from the Caribbean.

The movies are sometimes shot in a week’s time for as little as $50,000, or even less. The A-list actors make $10,000 a film, and shoot dozens a year. Jim Iyke, a Nigerian movie star who attended Thursday’s announcement, said the films were popular outside Africa because they were a “window to see what home was — a way to follow the progress and the problems.”

But if the availability of inexpensive, pirated films have contributed to their popularity, it has also robbed African filmmakers of the rewards.

At the news conference Thursday, hundreds of pirated DVDs — including some of Nollywood’s latest titles, like “Treasure Hunt,” “Mind Games” and “Stolen Will” — were arrayed on a table in front of Mr. Hynes. The bootlegs, seized from stores along Church, Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues, and Cortelyou Road, are the fruits of an industry that started booming in the late 1990s in Nigeria, English-speaking parts of Africa and then overseas.

Behind Mr. Hynes were several people who had reason to be pleased by the announcement, including Tony Abulu, the president of the United States-based Filmmakers Association of Nigeria, who said he had asked Mr. Hynes to act against the counterfeiters.

Painting the piracy as an act of national theft, Mr. Abulu said, “The sweat and blood of Africa, both on the continent and in the U.S., will not go to waste.” He said that the police in the Bronx had also moved against counterfeiters, but not to the same extent.

Three men who legally distribute Nigerian films also seemed relieved. The men said they paid filmmakers up to $15,000 for each film, only to see their efforts undercut in America by piracy.

Samuel Ameyaw, who runs Executive Image African Movies, said he had been distributing Nollywood films for about 10 years, and had visited shopkeepers in Brooklyn to plead with them to carry licensed copies. More recently, distributors have dropped the prices of licensed films, to about $5 each, to compete with the bootlegged versions.

None of it worked, he said, adding that in Brooklyn, there is only one store that carries properly licensed Nigerian films.

An employee at a store that was raided, called Nafa Africa, on Church Avenue, said he was surprised when the police arrived as he was opening the store Monday. The employee, Sidiki Konate, said he had expected a warning from the authorities to stop carrying the films before such a drastic move was taken — like the warning that preceded a crackdown almost two years ago on bootlegged music.

“All we sell are African movies,” he said. “It will be very hard.”