First there was Hollywood, then came Bollywood and today we have Nollywood: the second largest film industry in the world.

Indeed, it was in 2009 that Nigeria’s pulsating film industry, Nollywood, officially overtook Hollywood as the second largest film producer in the world, according to a survey conducted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Bollywood, the Mumbai-based movie industry, retains first position.

In 2011 alone around 2,000 movies were made in Nigeria. That is a staggering 40 films churned out each week. Nollywood films, unlike Hollywood blockbusters, are produced on a shoestring budget, with an average production taking just 10 days and costing between $10,000 and $15,000.

Some estimates put the value of the industry at $250 million. Plus, the films are increasingly popular in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and more recently in North America. In the States, viewers can now watch Nollywood and other West African movies on the TV channel, Afrotainment.

It is this growing global market that has encouraged A-list Hollywood actors to start associating with Nollywood. Nigerian director, Jeta Amata’s latest movie, Black Gold (2011), set in the Niger Delta, for instance, parades a high number of Tinseltown actors, including the likes of Vivica A. Fox, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Tom Sizemore and Michael Madsen.

Black-American Hollywood actress, Kimberly Elise, has also caught the African bug. Last year she was cast in Ties That Binds (2011), a film by acclaimed Ghanaian film director Leila Djansi, which went on to scoop up numerous awards on the continent.

“This is the first time in history that Africans have complete control of a cinematic medium,” says Franco Sacchi, director of a documentary titled, This is Nollywood, which follows Nigerian filmmaker Bond Emeruwa’s quest to make a feature-length action film in just nine days.

“They make the movies without foreign investment or government aid and don’t have to report to anyone, except themselves and their audiences,” says Sacchi. “It has created thousands if not tens of thousands of jobs and the industry is expanding.”

The average Nigerian film is very much rooted in local concerns and the storylines are relatable, which contributes to its populist appeal, adds Sacchi, who was born in Zambia and raised in Italy. He is now based in Boston.

Despite the growing popularity of Nollywood, the high production values of Nigerian filmmakers such as Jeta Amata are an exception. The industry has been criticized for “unrefined storylines” and putting quantity ahead of quality. This is exactly what UK journalist Charles Aniagolu is on a mission to change.

The former CNN and BBC presenter/reporter has just wrapped up the shooting of his first Nollywood movie, Streets of Calabar, which he says will raise the bar of filmmaking in Nigeria.

The movie, set amidst the breathtaking scenery of Cross River State in southeastern Nigerian, features an internationally-renowned cast of actors, including Maynard Eziashi, Rita Dominic and Wale Ojo, as well as new discoveries such as Lisa Kill.

The movie revolves around the main character, Chuks Oti, (ably played by Anthony Ofoegbu, a UK based actor of Nigerian-British parentage) and his complex mission to double cross a Nigerian mob boss.

Unlike the average Nollywood movie, Calabar, which Aniagolu describes as a “comedy -thriller,” was produced on a significantly higher budget and took months to shoot, using the latest high-definition cameras and state-of-the-art technology.

“I wanted to make a well-written film against the backdrop of a Nigerian subculture, using a multiracial crew and cast, to international production standards, which would potentially be of interest to global distributors,” says British-Nigerian Aniagolu, who wrote, produced and co-directed Streets of Calabar.

The majority of Nollywood movies will often bypass cinemas altogether and are released straight to home media (formerly VHS, these days DVD). They are sold directly on the streets in high volumes. Streets of Calabar, though, is scheduled for international cinema release sometime in March or April.

It was the release of the film, Living in Bondage, in 1992 that set the stage for Nollywood as it is known today. “This was a grassroots movement that happened against all odds at one of the most difficult moments in the Nigerian economy,” Sacchi says of the environment that led to the explosion of Nollywood movies that followed this ‘92 release.

“It began as an underground movement,” says Aniagolu. “The arrival of the home video created the opportunity for filmmakers to pick up their cameras and start making their own movies.”

The Nollywood film industry has evolved a lot since these humble beginnings. With the growing worldwide audience, and the drive by ambitious filmmakers like Aniagolu to raise production values, we may just be witnessing a new era for Nigerian films. So perhaps, one day, Nollywood, will be viewed as a viable alternative, even rival, to Tinseltown for African-American actors to purse their craft.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti