Redeemed Church Takes Nollywood by Storm

Lagos, Nigeria - Now playing across Nigeria: The saga of a church that self-produced a few films and became an instant mogul in the country's giant movie marketplace known as Nollywood.

It's the latest - and perhaps most audacious - foray into mass culture by the Redeemed Christian Church of God. In less than a year, the church's Dove Studios has gone from Nollywood greenhorns to barons.

Dove has several hits under its belt, a pile of scripts from Nollywood's top filmmakers and the foundations for a nationwide distribution network that eventually could give it make-or-break influence over the entire industry - which churns out more than a dozen new films on DVDs and videos each week and is the principal entertainment market in Nigeria.

"We're looking to make crossover movies," said Ope Banwo, head of the church's World Dove Media Plc., which includes a satellite television division, a celebrity-oriented magazine and state-of-the-art studios that produce music videos and other works. "Our idea was to use popular, secular actors so the guy on the street doesn't know what's coming at him. ... We're softly getting him to watch evangelism."

The church stormed into Nollywood with its first four movies last year, including the English-language "The AIDS Patient" about an infected woman cured by the Holy Spirit and "Agan" (or "None Shall be Barren"), a story in the local Yoruba language about a pastor and his wife who finally conceive a baby after deep prayer.

The films fit in well with one of the traditional themes of Nollywood: people overcoming odds and good triumphing over evil.

More than 50,000 copies of the Dove movies have been sold, which is a runaway success by Nollywood standards. Next up: a $460,000 production about the history of the Redeemed Church.

Banwo's desk has stacks of scripts from established Nollywood directors. The reason, he said, is Dove's strategy to build Nigeria's first, large-scale movie distribution infrastructure.

Despite Nollywood's prolific output, there is no network to send the DVDs and videos around the vast nation of more than 120 million people. In March, Dove began finalizing a deal to sell its films at post offices across Nigeria. Dove also is studying ways to use its thousands of parishes to market the movies.

Dove won't turn away other studios' film for distribution. But there's a catch, said Banwo.

"The movies would have to have Christian resolutions or a moral theme," he said. "So in that way we could influence Nollywood."