Tony Abulu, directing his film, “Doctor Bello,” last year in New York. Mr. Abulu, who is Nigerian, is considered a member of that country’s booming film industry and his movie will be shown in theaters in New York and across the country starting on Friday.The filmmaker was on his cellphone, his voice hoarse, his enthusiasm abounding. “It’s a Cinderella story!” he exclaimed. “Here’s a little guy who’s struggling!”

The little guy in question was himself, Tony Abulu. The story: the long, fraught arc of his latest project, “Doctor Bello,” a movie he wrote, directed and produced.

Shot last year on a shoestring budget in New York City and Nigeria, Mr. Abulu’s project has had a lot riding on it. It was the recipient of an inaugural loan made by a government-backed fund in Nigeria created to improve the quality of the movies churned out by that country’s booming film industry, known as Nollywood.

And now Mr. Abulu’s narrative was reaching its denouement. He recently finalized a deal with AMC Theaters to screen the movie at 20 theaters around the country, including the company’s multiplex on 42nd Street in Times Square. Mr. Abulu, who is from Nigeria and has lived in Manhattan for nearly three decades, said it was the first time a Nollywood production had secured a mainstream theatrical release in the United States.

The run begins Friday morning and is scheduled only through next Wednesday — unless box-office receipts warrant an extension.

“It’s the make-or-break weekend,” Mr. Abulu said. “This is where I become either Tyler Perry or just fade out into oblivion.”

To Mr. Abulu, oblivion means the wasteland of Nollywood DVDs, the one and only destination for nearly all of the more than 1,000 titles spewed out by that industry every year. Most are sloppy productions with weak writing and acting and low production values, though they are popular at home and among Nigerians and others throughout the African diaspora.

In 2010, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, pledged to create a $200 million fund to help raise the production value of Nollywood movies with an eye toward capturing a wider international audience. Last spring, Mr. Abulu received $250,000 from the fund.

The film tells the story of an African-American cancer specialist in New York, Michael Durant, who seeks the assistance of an uncertified Nigerian doctor to save a young patient. The Nigerian doctor, an immigrant living in Brooklyn named Dr. Bello, administers the patient a secret African potion. But the unorthodox treatment leads to Dr. Durant’s suspension and Dr. Bello’s imprisonment for malpractice.

When Dr. Bello himself falls ill, Dr. Durant goes in search of a secret elixir, found only in the mountains of Nigeria, in a place called the “Garden of Life.”

Mr. Abulu hopes the film and its international story line would have special appeal for African-American audiences.

Alongside A-list Nollywood stars, including Genevieve Nnaji and Stephanie Okereke, he cast several Hollywood actors, including Isaiah Washington, best known for “Grey’s Anatomy”; Vivica A. Fox (“Kill Bill” and “Independence Day,” among others); and Jimmy Jean-Louis (the NBC series “Heroes”).

He has spent about $500,000 to make and distribute the film, Mr. Abulu said — small by Hollywood standards but enormous for Nollywood — but was able to keep his expenditures relatively low because many cast members agreed to defer at least some of their payment on the promise of a share of profits.

“It’s been a struggle for, like, three years for me, nonstop,” Mr. Abulu sighed.

The movie had its premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, in September, and was released in theaters in Nigeria, where it received a mixed reception from reviewers and made about $100,000 at the box offices, Mr. Abulu said.

For months, Mr. Abulu relentlessly lobbied American film executives for a distribution deal in the United States, finally getting traction with AMC.

“Having recognized Nollywood as a rapid growing industry, AMC is pleased to not only provide a platform for sharing more socially and culturally relevant stories, but to respond to the feedback from our diverse guest base,” Nikkole Denson-Randolph, vice president of alternative and special content for AMC Theaters, said in a news release announcing the deal.

In addition to Times Square, the film will open at theaters in New Jersey as well as Atlanta; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla.; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia and Washington.

Since the deal was finalized, Mr. Abulu has been scrambling to ensure an audience. This has mostly involved word of mouth because, he confessed, he has run out of money and could not afford advertising.

“If I had a million dollars to advertise, I would predict that we would do $60 million the opening weekend,” he said.

Still, his confidence in the film’s future remained unflagging.

“It’s going to catch fire,” he predicted.

A version of this article appeared in print on 02/22/2013, on page A18 of the NewYork edition with the headline: A Film Seeks an Audience Far Broader Than Nigeria.

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