Ghana , Nigeria collaborates on the silver-screen

With demand for local-language movies, partnerships with Nigerian directors and actors and a new international film festival, Ghana’s movie-making industry is growing fast.

 

After decades in the doldrums, Ghana’s film industry is on the rise. There are more and more twi-language movies produced in the country where demand is growing for local language films.
“People see themselves and their own people telling their own stories, and it’s easier for them to understand than English [films],” says Asare Hackman, founder of the production company Hacky Films and head of the Film Producers Association of Ghana (FIPAG). “If they can do it in Bollywood, then we can do it here.”
 
In March, Ghanaian director Akosua Adoma Owusu premiered her short film “Kwaku Ananse” at the Berlinale Film Festival. Then in June, the country hosted the inaugural Accra International Film Festival, welcoming a mix of regional and international actors and directors to the capital for a series of talks and screenings.
Accra is also becoming a hotbed for guerrilla filming. Music videos and short clips are circulated on blogs and social networks from people with no formal training in film.
 
“The young ones are doing it. They are doing music videos whether they know what they’re doing or not ... they are still trying,” says cinematographer and film lecturer Yahaya Alpha Suberu. The opening of the Silverbird Cinema at Accra Mall in 2008 brought hope to filmmakers like Suberu. In the past, they would have had to rent a pick-up truck, put speakers on it and sell their films on the street. Although Silverbird shows some local productions, its programme is mainly filled with Hollywood and Bollywood films.
 
Supporting cast

The state support for arts and culture that flowed during the euphoric heyday of a newly independent Ghana fell by the wayside after the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah in a coup in 1966. The state-owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC), which was founded to educate and provide equipment and support to filmmakers, managed to hold on and helped produce films such as Kwaw Ansah’s 1980 “Love Brewed in the African Pot” and the 1984 film “Kukurantumi” by King Ampaw.
Ghana has its own film school, the state-run National Film and Television Institute, which was founded in 1978 and welcomed a cohort of 60 new students in November 2012. It plans to offer courses in acting, as well as in sound and music recording, in the 2014 academic year.
 
As Ghanaian film production slowed because of a lack of financing, in Nigeria the film industry thrived, based on a combination of oil money and the transition from expensive and laborious celluloid to cheap and easy video cassettes. The first Nollywood film was made in 1992.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, the government sold the GIFC to a Malaysian company in 1997 following the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to privatise it. It became TV3, a free channel, which was then sold to a private Ghanaian company in 2011.
 
Nollywood to Gollywood

In the past decade, as the distribution of Nigerian films has crossed over into Ghana, producers in both countries saw an opportunity to join forces. “People started watching a lot of Nigerian films here, so the producers here started to think, ‘Let me get a Nollywood star,’”says Suberu.
Ghanaian and Nigerian films have gone from including one actor from the other country to having crews and writers from both countries collaborating. “As filmmakers, we need to position ourselves to let government know of the contribution we can make to the country’s GDP growth,” Hackman points out.
Some estimates put the number of people working in film in Ghana’s Northern Region alone at 8,000. There are moves to start promoting Ghana as a location for international film sets, particularly due to its more than 40 forts and castles along the coast.
 
AFRICAN STARS GET RECOGNITION IN HOLLYWOOD

Africa is a huge continent and has a lot of stories to tell. Recently more and more of these stories find their way on the big screen, while African actors get more recognition in Hollywood.

African cinema has finally started to knock loudly at the doors of Hollywood. Or at least blockbusters with themes relevant to Africa and with black directors are suddenly storming the market.
 
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” nominated for nine Oscars, won in the “Best Picture” category while Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong took the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar home. “Captain Phillips,” a blockbuster that takes an unconventional look at piracy, was also nominated in several categories.
The success of films like “Mandela” and “Half of a Yellow Sun” suggests an increasing appetite among global audiences for hard-hitting dramas about African experiences.
 
Half of a Yellow Sun, a film that depicts the fight for the independence of Biafra directed by Nigeria’s Biyi Bandele, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013.
It is based on the novel of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
 
Due for release this year is “The Good Lie,” a story about a refugee from South Sudan who is resettled in the US. The film is starring famous actress Reese Witherspoon.
 
For decades, black actors and directors lamented having to play stereotyped and token roles in distorted films, calling for more in-depth African stories. The fact that three African actors were nominated for Academy Awards this year is a step towards this. Aside from Nyong’o, British-born Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars in both Half of a Yellow Sun and 12 Years a Slave, was nominated in the “Best Actor” category for his role as Solomon Northup in the latter film. Barkhad Abdi -the 28-year-old actor of Somali origin who made his debut as a pirate in Captain Phillips- was also nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Supporting Actor” category. 
 


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