Inside the cavernous Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic church in Lagos, a man in a dark hoodie stops menacingly at the entrance and glares at the Christ statue before him.
He crosses himself slowly, staggers against the pews and freezes.
Black baseball cap shielding her eyes, director Esther Abah squints into her monitor. The shot was off. Time for another take.
“Come back, come back,” she calls out to her actor.
With a crew of student actors, lighting gaffers and sound engineers, cameramen and grips, Abah is part of a project to sharpen the skills of a new generation of Nigerian film-makers to help them appeal to international audiences.
The church scene is part of a six-minute piece “Father Forgive Me”, Abah is filming halfway into an 11-week intensive course with EbonyLife Creative Academy.
The joint project between EbonyLife production house — a Nigeria film powerhouse — and Lagos State government, wants to train students like Abah to make African stories for a wider international public.
Films like “Father Forgive Me” — a tale of a priest struggling with a moral dilemma — may not get to the foreign market, but they are teaching young moviemakers how to appeal beyond Nigeria.
“You can have an original story, but you have to present it in a way that anyone will watch it,” said Theart Korsten, the South African head of the Lagos academy.
“We want them to tell Nigerian stories for the international audience.”
Nigeria’s domestic film industry, Nollywood, is massive, and prolific — second only to India’s Bollywood in terms of quantity of movies produced and ahead of Hollywood.
Its films, along with the dominance of the Afropop music scene with stars like Burna Boy and WizKid, have guaranteed Nigeria’s place as a cultural powerhouse on the continent.