Should I be jubilating to learn that a total of three films made by Ghanaians and those from the diaspora will feature at the Film Africa festival in 2016?
Last year there was just one, while in years 2014 and 2013, there were two films. Even though the number of films showing this year is higher for a third consecutive year, I will refrain from popping the champagne just yet.
The reason is two-fold. Ghanaian film representation at Film Africa has never been as good (if you can call that good) as in 2011 when the festival was first launched and a total of five flicks were showcased. It fell to four in 2012 and has never managed to hit five digits ever since.
Secondly, in the grand scheme of things, the Ghanaian contribution to films in this festival is meagre when compared to movie heavyweights such as South Africa. In 2015, the festival showcased 67 narrative features, documentaries, and short films from across 26 different African countries. Over 20% of those came from South Africa. In 2014, the percentage was fairly similar.
When I asked the Film Africa team, at their 2014 event, why there was such as strong South African presence, I was told that was because the year marked the 20th anniversary of democracy in the former apartheid country. As a result, Film Africa – along with other film festivals – had teamed up to showcase the best of South African cinema.
Film Africa’s 2015 event featured a number of films from Portuguese-speaking African nations as part of a 40-year celebration of independence these countries. No one I have asked in the Film Africa team has been able to give me a particular reason why there was not a focus on Ghana or why films from the country appear to have this low film turnout.
Playing by the rules
Based on my investigation of the rules, the requirements do not seem to be overly strenuous. There is no submission fee for films (unlike other film festivals) and for this year’s event – there is a stipulation that the year of production must be 2014 or after.
What participants stand to gain from the experience is recognition, and possibly money. The Baobab Award for Best Short Film supports film-making across Africa and the chance to win a £1,000 cash prize. And for the first time in 2015, Film Africa introduced the African Union Foundation (AUF) Audience Award for Best Feature Film in which the winning filmmaker can receive £1,500.
Notoriety and recognition
But when I asked Ghana-based filmmakers if they had (a) heard of Film Africa or (b) tried to participate, the answer was the same…no and no. Ghanaian TV director Kwame Boadi of inGenius Africa is known for such series as Sunshine Avenue, Abiba and Sun City. He was responsible for co-producing Danish/Ghanaian arthouse film Gold Coast, which was showcased in London in 2015 just before the Film Africa festival was launched. But Boadi told MisBeee Writes last November that he was not aware of the festival or the opportunity.
It seems that other Africa-focussed film festivals have had a more potent impact in the minds of Ghanaian filmmakers. British-Ghana documentary filmmaker Pamela Sakyi who produced and directed ‘British Ghanaians: Lost in Translation’ and Trumpet Africa – the creators behind the 2015 Ghanaian film ‘Chronicles of Odumkrom’ – have both had their films recognised by the West African Film Festival (WAFF) in Texas. ‘Chronicles of Odumkrom’ has also been recognised by the Cameroon International Film Festival (CAMIFF) and selected by the Festival International du Film PanAfricain de Cannes The Cannes festival launches in early April 2017 and charges a fee for submissions. I posed the same question to all the directors that had submitted films to Film Africa since its inception but have not heard a word yet.
Ghanaian film classics
Despite this acclaim, Ghanaian films rarely dominate the festival scene. One reason proffered is the lack of a film-going/watching culture in the country compared to other African nations.
If there isn’t a thriving culture for watching films, then it stands to reason that the investment will also suffer. Ghana’s film industry dates back to pre-colonial times but was seen more as a medium of educating the public than providing private entertainment, according to writer Prince Kwesi of infoboxdaily.com. After independence, the film industry developed and out of it classics such as Kwaw Ansah’s 1980 ‘Love Brewed in an African Pot’ and the 1987 film ‘Zinabu’ – directed by William Akuffo and Richard Quartey – emerged from Ghana.
Holly, Nolly, Kuma and Ghally
Influences from Hollywood (USA) and Nollywood (Nigeria) shaped Ghanaian cinema further. But rather than building from these strong cinematic heavyweights, I have often felt Ghanaian cinema during the 90s emulated them poorly instead of finding their own voice.
What didn’t help was that investment in these films was never on a par to that of US and Nigeria and often lacked strong government backing. As a result, production was often poor with shaky filming, poor plot lines and cheesy acting.
Nowadays, although there has been marked improvements in production, there are some that feel that Ghana’s film industry has become segmented. Ghana’s Kumawood (Kumasi film industry) tends to produce films in Twi, has more improvisation in the dialogue and lower budgets. Comparatively, Ghallywood (Ghana film industry) tends to appeal to a more westernised market with US English commonly spoken and has higher budgets. Names of producers and directors commonly associated with these types of productions are Shirley Frimpong-Manso.
Although both sorts of films have a growing fan base, their popularity tends to stay within Ghana or the Ghanaian diaspora. I see platforms such as Film Africa as a chance for films made in one country to be seen in other African countries and outside the continent. Wouldn’t it be great if a film from Malawi had a growing following in Ghana or vice versa?
Filmmaker Tetteh Abbeyquaye of Trumpet Africa, believes the challenge is multifaceted. It includes making film distribution more effective, improving the pay that film producers get and boosting the digital infrastructure in Ghana so that more people can watch online. In Nigeria, iROKOtv exists and is a way for film lovers to access Nigerian and Ghanaian films and TV series. And similarly, the democratisation of the internet has helped a new wave of filmmakers, such as ‘An African City’ creators Nicole Amarteifio and Maame Adjei, to have a voice and grow their following. But regular access to that infrastructure is paramount for these smaller industries to grow, said Abbeyquaye.
“The internet infrastructure in Africa/Ghana is so bad that not many people can watch online,” said Abbeyquaye. “Then you have the problem with how to pay online. A lot of people in Ghana who want to purchase our movies are unable to because they don’t have the credit cards to do so.
“I believe it would improve overtime but we are still some way away. My problem with Ghana and Africa is we just seem to jump from one problem to the other without thinking through and coming up with proper solutions. We need to address piracy; we need to develop a film-going culture – that is basic. How to do that I don’t know but I think that is where we start.”
While we explore routes to improving Ghana’s film industry, I would encourage you to patronise this film festival and others promoting Black/African films.
‘Children of the Mountain’, directed by Priscilla Anany is one of the three Ghanaian films showing at this year’s Film Africa event. The film explores attitudes to disability in Ghana and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.
British-Ghanaian director Amma Asante’s film ‘A United Kingdom’ also airs, charting the story of chief Seretse Khama – King of Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) and his love for English woman Ruth Williams against all odds. Nakom – directed by Kelly Daniela Norris, and TW Pittman – premiers at the festival and has been touted as ‘a fine example of Ghana’s burgeoning film scene’.
Let’s hope that in maybe not too many years to come – Film Africa will be showcasing the best of Ghana’s film industry in much the same way as South Africa and Portuguese-speaking Africa has enjoyed. And the hope is that Ghanaians both at home and abroad invest both money and time in helping to make Ghanaian film culture one to be emulated.
Film Africa is the Royal African Society’s annual film festival.
Ghanaian films showcased during Film Africa in 2015:
Ghanaian films showcased during Film Africa in 2014:
Ghanaian films showcased during Film Africa in 2013:
Ghanaian films showcased during Film Africa in 2012:
An African Election
Ghanaian films showcased during Film Africa in 2011:
*A year after writing this piece, Film Africa 2017 was largely dedicated to films from Ghana or Ghanaians. This included Keteke by Peter Sedufia. Check out my interview with him here*.
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