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Opinions of Friday, 20 May 2016

Columnist: Enimil Ashon

Enimil Ashon writes: Even our gods are failing us

In the film world, there are gods/goddesses and there are icons. In this industry, things operate contrariwise; so you find that the gods die but the icons don’t. While as many as 90 per cent of the film gods/goddesses last only as long as fads, the works of the icons are eternal references.

In Ghana, the Kwaw Ansahs, the King Ampaws and the Chris Hesses belong in the icons category. They may not be everyday names, but their legacies are enduring.

In the category of gods and goddess are many of the filmmakers who currently light up our screens with near-magical interpretation of roles (actors). For a list of them, ask any fishwife.

In between these two categories are the breed who have a leg each in the two worlds. They have class and they have talent. Beyond talent, they have skill.

Into this category I place Shirley Frimpong Manso and Ivan Kwashigah. Juliet Asante may soon join them. Ivan, to my mind, is a shade ahead, a sort of first-born, in this pack. From his National Film and Television Industry (NAFTI) days he announced his advent as a director. I was on the panel that judged his work, among the many other competing final year student productions, as the Best Directed Film for that year.

Today, who in Ghana, will forget the impact Ivan made with Things we do for love, that serial masterpiece. A product of his fertile imagination is Pusher. His latest, YOLO, a worthy sequel to Things We Do For Love, has proved that Ivan’s first cut was no fluke. What puts him ahead of the pack is his abilities as a scriptwriter - well researched believable facts of life - with an almost uncanny knack for characterisation. His characters achieve immortality.

There are people in this country who will never watch a Ghanaian film. My suspicion is that they have not exposed themselves to Shirley Frimpong Manso films. That lady is a goddess when it comes to weaving plots and calling shots; and I am using the terminology advisedly in its technical sense, as was taught me by Kwaw Ansah and Sam Aryeetey! Let’s get it straight: not everybody who shouts, “Quiet on set… Roll camera….Action!” is a director.

Shirley-Frimpong Manso is a director. Her handwriting changes the label from a movie into a “picture”: it bears the imprint of a creative genius who knows what is called camera angles, what lighting does to a set, editing techniques et al.

So with all these geniuses around, how come Ghanaian productions are not doing as well as they should? To understand my anxiety, go with me through the following facts and figures from Nigeria and South Africa.

• During the recent Ivorian civil war, rebels in the bush stopped fighting whenever a shipment of DVDs arrived from Lagos

• When the President of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, the Nigerian actress, to join him on the campaign trail, he attracted record crowds at rallies

But how many Ghanaian movies really portray Ghana and the Ghanaian? Here is where I pause to make a humble appeal to Shirley Frimpong Manso.

For the crispness of her pictures and the believability of her plots, Shirley has the potential to take Ghanaian films to universal acceptability; which is not unachievable. I was in Los Angeles, home of Hollywood, in 2007 for the African American Film Festival and saw the reaction of American audiences to Ghanaian King Ampaw’s film. According to them (in interviews later) they saw Hollywood quality in a film with a distinctive African tale.

Here is where Shirley, Juliet & Co come in. My appeal to them is to avoid films which portray what Jim Awindor of NAFTI describes as “a mimicry of cultures creating a tapestry that does not belong to us”; films which someone else has labelled as “Hollywood clones”.

People who know film history – how film was used to subjugate the African – wonder why today, Africans are using the same weapon to confirm the colonial images of ourselves. To portray Africa as a jungle where lions and cheetahs roamed, Hollywood imported animals from New York zoos to produce films such as ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ (1937), ‘King of the Cannibal Islands (1908), ‘Missionaries in Darkest Africa’ (1912), etc. The ‘Africans’ in those films were not Blacks. They were white Americans whose bodies had been painted black to play African roles - as a people capable of nothing but tomfoolery and cannibalism.

So the question is, why is it that today, in the 21st century, Kumawood is using film to confirm this image of ourselves?

If there is hope, it is in the likes of Shirley Frimpong Manso, Ivan Quashigah and Juliet Asante telling the African story. How? Hear Kofi Akpabli: “Non-Nigerians including Yours Truly, now swear ‘Chineke God!’ Furthermore, when someone is the main man, he is no longer referred to as Boss or Chief. The borrowed parlance is ‘Igwe’…” Before the shooting of ‘Crocodile Dundee’, in the 1980s, western tourists considered Australia as remote and uninteresting. That film sparked off a worldwide interest in Australia.

The Ghanaian future is in a Film Fund. Without it, products of NAFTI, no matter how brilliant and skilful, will never make a film. Ghanaian films will be produced only by mechanics and pastors who have the resources or are motivated by profit and religion, not by art.

I am aware of the frantic efforts of the current Minister, Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare to get the Film Bill passed. But how come that after more than 10 years, the Bill is still crawling between the Cabinet and Parliament.

It was not for sentimental reasons that President Goodluck Jonathan created a $200 million revolving fund in 2010 to help finance film projects.