The 1990s was the beginning of the liberation of mass media and the emergence of privately-owned media houses which was granted by the 1992 constitution of Ghana after 11 years of military dictatorship. Early video producers concentrated on issues of survival, prosperity, witchcraft, and spiritual rituals which were mainly in public discourse at the time. A lot of these issues were headlines in popular press and tabloid newspapers, such as People and Places (aka P&P) of reports of mysterious births and deaths, rituals and other queer occurrences (Nanbigne, 20011, p 201).
These videos reflected the daily struggles of ordinary Ghanaians unlike the celluloid films of the past which showcased grand narratives of independence, nationalism and post colonialism. This shift to popular ones produced a variety of themes which later became local genres in video production. These include, the occult, family life, the world of riches, femme fatale, crime and drugs, romance and love, vengeance, greed and power and tradition African culture against Euro-Christianity these categorized by Nanbigne (2011). Despite the simplistic and often predictable narratives of these video-films which had poor technical quality appealed to audiences because of the themes of the films showcased. During this period, there were several independent filmmakers and video-film producers who were either trained or untrained producing many films mainly because of the easy accessibility and flexibility of the video medium unlike celluloid film.
There are a few video-films that were shot professionally which were quite good technically. Two examples are Kwaw Ansah’s first video feature film Harvest at 17 (1994) which talks about adolescent sexuality, abortion, modern youth culture and the breakdown of family values which was a reflection of issues in public discourse also at the time. This film set the standard in video production in the country even though it did not do well among mass audience like the other occult, spiritual videos did (Nanbigne, 2011, p. 208) Mataa-Our Missing Children (1992) by Wallace Bampoe-Addo was also professionally produced also did not do well at the open market place. The film centres on the theme greed for wealth and power. It tells the story of a police detective, Kwabena who is trailing after a drug baron, Jones who has taken a village hostage using it as a transit point for illicit drugs and also uses children of the village for sacrifices to an occult deity to acquire wealth and power. Kwabena closes in on Jones who attempts to use supernatural powers he acquired from the occult deity to outwit the detective but fails (Nanbigne, 2011, p 207).
When trained filmmakers and The Ghana Film Industry Corporation- GFIC noticed the extraordinary success of these video productions in the country and realized that the screenings of these films in the local cinemas could generate sufficient funds to sustain a viable video film industry, they also turned to the video format. Also, in order to improve the quality of productions made by untrained and gradually self trained filmmakers, the GFIC offered editing services and other forms of advice to filmmakers in exchange for the right to show the films in its own cinemas. In 1992, The GFIC produced its first video-film Dede directed by Tom Ribeiro. The film revolves around a young teacher, Dede who declines to perform the puberty rites of her people because she regards it as an old fashioned practice. Dede moves to Accra, the big city where she is exploited by a womanizer, Dauda and loses her virginity which she was religiously guarding. She is thrown out of her jealous friend’s apartment. It takes the intervention on an elderly man for Dede to find forgiveness of her people in the village and undergoes ritual cleansing to get her life back together again (Nanbigne, 2011, p 207).
Other films produced that year by video producers include Schemers (1992), Double Cross (1992), Nkrabea-My Destiny (1992), Abrantee (1992) by Wallace Bampoe-Addo and The Other Side of the Rich (1992) by Ernest Abbeyquaye. The Other Side of the Rich was another film produced by the GFIC; this film examines the desperate quest for wealth, especially by urban dwellers willing to do anything for money in this case trade in illicit drugs. Bampoe-Addo’s film Abrantee, is considered the first “Hip-hop film” in Ghana because of the theme of the film (Ukadike, 2000, p 252). In Abrantee,
“Mrs Tagoe does not get much attention from her husband who is too busy with his medical job. Her loneliness makes her vulnerable and she is easily charmed by Michael, her daughter’s handsome boyfriend. When Eva, Mrs Tagoe’s niece comes to stay, Michael, in his youthful exuberance, falls in love with her and starts avoiding Mrs Tagoe. Angered by this turn of events, Mrs Tagoe sends Eva away, much to the chagrin of Michael. He decides to retaliate by framing and embarrassing her. He sets up a meeting in a hotel room, where she is supposed to be waiting for him. He then arranges for Dr Tagoe to visit the hotel room and finds his wife in a compromising situation. But Michael also loses his relationship with the ladies he loves. This leads him into heavy drinking, and, whilst driving drunk, he crashes his car.” (Nanbigne, 2011, p 212)
Some films produced by several filmmakers include Socrate Safo’s Step Dad (1993), Meba (1993) by Sidiku Buari- a former student of NAFTI and the former president of The Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) is a film about a woman who frames her lover’s wife leading her to her death. The woman moves into the lover, Danny’s house and pretends to take care of Danny’s son (with her diseased wife). But in Danny’s absence maltreats his son. A Heart of Gold (1993) by Kofi Yirenkyi is a ‘family life film’; Julie makes it appear as if her friend Alice is having an illegal extra-marital affair. Alice is thrown out of her home while Julie moves in. Julie begins to maltreat the family, disrespects the man, and tries to exert her authority by use of supernatural charms. Unfortunately she is exposed and the family she tried to destroy reunites (Nanbigne, 2011 p 207&210). Police officer (1993) directed by Godwin Kotey, a popular film in the 90s and a ‘femme fatal themed film’ tells a story of a police officer who falls in love with a woman who is planted by a gang of robbers who the officer least expect; her job is to give the gang a fool-proof raid of his house. Avengers (1994) by Abeiku Sagoe, Ghost Tears (1994) another from Socrates Safo and the list goes on.
The GFIC collapsed in the mid 1990s when the government diversified the corporation. This was done on the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to privatise it. This was probably one of the conditions the IMF gave to the government of Ghana before a loan was given out to sustain the economy at the time. The government sold the GFIC first to a Thai company BEC-TERO which set up the television station, TV3 in 1997 and later sold off two years later. In 1999, Media Prima of Malaysia took over TV3 and annexed the GFIC, renaming it GAMA Film Company Limited which was responsible for producing films as part of their contract with the government as a shareholder (Agyemang, 2013). According to Filmmaker Anita Afonu, the GFIC was sold to the Malaysians for a sum of $1.23 million (Ellerson, 2013). Obviously, the Malaysians were not interested in Cinema but television; they turned the largest soundstage in West Africa, Studio ‘B’ into a TV station. Since they needed space to store their equipments, they got rid of all the celluloid film equipments, film strips including all of the Nation’s film archives; not concerned about Ghanaian Heritage were dumped outside left to the mercy of the weather (Ellerson, 2013). This act outraged a lot of independent filmmakers who pressed government to do something about the situation but that fell on deaf ears. Rev Dr Chris Hesse, a filmmaker and a former director of the GFIC blames the government for the collapse of the GFIC and the film industry as a whole. He said in an interview with the Ghana New Agency when he was honoured by NAFTI during its Film lectures Awards night in 2014 dedicated to him;
“We sold it (The GFIC) to the Malaysians. It was the foundation of our cultural industry and we toyed with it” (GNA, 2014)
- O. T Agyemang, an actor and a media practitioner shares in his sentiments;
“There is no doubt that the military coup of 1981 led to the demise of the Ghana Film Industry… Dr Kwami Nkrumah set up the Ghana Film Industry Corporation and built the largest studio in West Africa in today known as studio B at TV3 and all the facilities including the Executive Theatre were part of Nkrumah’s plan to create an African Film Industry…” (Agyemang, 2013)
J.O.T Agyemang further goes on to say,
“I have no doubt that the foundation of the demise of the Ghana film industry is steeped in the Jerry John Rawlings led PNDC and NDC governments. The film industry was seen as a drain on government resources then, so the PNDC and NDC governments starved the company of funds, gradually bringing it to its knees. Moreover, it became apparent that the government had no use for the GFIC which with exception of GBC (Ghana Broadcasting Corporation) and perhaps the ISD (Information Service Department)…” (Agyemang, 2013)
Apart from the Malaysians, one prominent Hollywood filmmaker, Steven Spielberg had interest in the GFIC. According to veteran Ghanaian actor, David Dontoh, Spielberg made efforts to acquire the largest soundstage, now TV3 studio ‘B’ which was part of the GFIC at the time for $9 million but failed. He unlike the Malaysians wanted to turn the corporation into the biggest film studio in Africa. His film Amistad was to be shot in Ghana if his acquisition was successful (GNA, 2014).
Fortunately for Ghana, a number of celluloid films of the past are being stored in laboratories in England. This happened because at the time these films were produced, the country did not have a colour editing machine so the films had to be sent to England to be edited. The negatives of these films were stored there and have remained there ever since. Unfortunately, all the black and white films have been destroyed. The Government of Ghana pays a yearly rent to the labs to check and keep the films in pristine conditions (Ellerson, 2013).
After the divestiture of GFIC into TV3 station and GAMA Film Company Ltd; the latter was tasked to produce films. The new owners of the diversified corporation, the Malaysians were more interested in television with their Ghanaian counterparts and some heavy weights in the Rawlings Government, GAMA was made to starve of cash to operate (Agyemang, 2013). Despite this challenge in funding, the company was still able to produce some films a few years later before film production halted at the company. Independent filmmakers still went on as the GFIC was undergoing divestiture. Some of the films include Avengers (1994) by Abeiku Sagoe, Agony (1996) by Roger Harold Quartey, Triple Echo (1997) directed by Seth Ashong-Katai, Tears of Joy (1996) by Veronica Nai (was Veronica Quarshie at the time) – A NAFTI graduate, Namisha (1999) directed by Ashongbor Kwetey-Kanyi, Expectations parts 1&2 (1998&1999) by Ezekiel Dugbertey, Stab in the Dark parts 1&2 and Ripples part 1&2 both by Veronica Nai.
The GAMA Film Company (GFC) then GFCIC (Ghana Film Industry Corporations) produced the film Dark Sands (1999) directed by Lambert Hama, about an international trade cocaine with Ghana as a collaborator and law enforcer. The police used a code name “Dark sands” for the operation to fish out an international cocaine dealer Hankins who is exposed. But Hankins gets away with it on several occasions because of his connections in Government, customs and immigration and the top hierarchy in the Police Force. Ironically, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) is overseeing the operation “Dark Sands”. However, through determination and perseverance, the police are able to uncover cocaine concealed in tubers of yam from Ghana to the international market and subsequently apprehended Hankins, the IGP and their accomplices (Nanbigne, 2011, p 213). Another film of a similar theme was Set on Edge (1999) also produced by the GFC and directed by Tom Ribeiro which was never released, unfortunately because the Censorship Board at the time included a police officer, voted that it presented the police in a bad light towards the public. The film deals with the international drug trade and Ghana as a transit hub. The film shows a corrupt police officer taking monetary bribes in order to protect a gang of drug dealers who terrorize their neighbourhood. He is later found out by his superiors and punished.
By the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, the GFC had stopped commercial film production. As a result, many of the trained staff of the company became disillusioned with what they thought was a half-hearted approach to cinema by the Malaysian managers and the government. Some of the staff was left to pursue private practice (Nanbigne, 2011, p 233). The company later on became involved with television content development producing programmes such as Ghana’s Most Beautiful and Band’s Alive. The only activity relating to cinema was occasionally screening some Nigerian and Ghanaian video-films at its only remaining cinema theatre, the Executive Theatre-located on the company’s premises (Nanbigne, 2011, p 232). By this time all the other cinemas in Accra collapsed and others in major towns in Ghana were turned into predominately charismatic churches. Patronage at the cinema theatre was so poor that the company rented the premises for other events that were not cinema related.
The Evolution of Filmmaking in Kumasi
While filmmaking was going on in the south most part of the country, predominately in Accra, filmmaking began in Kumasi the capital of the Ashanti Region in the mid 1990s. According to James Aboagye a film director and producer, it was Mr Samuel Nyamekye of Miracle Films who came to shoot the film The Vigilant in 1996 with the help of some filmmakers from Accra like Alexiboat. The film was the first feature film shot in Kumasi on VHS. The next film made from the same company was Expectations which was shot on Super VHS, a higher grade camera to the former. The third film was Jewels shot on Betah, another camera of a higher version than the latter (Quist-Haynes, 2012, p8). Eventually other individuals, business men and women started to produce films. These pioneers decided to do films in the ‘Twi’ language which is the mother tongue of the people of Kumasi because they realized English did not reach widely to the inhabitants of Kumasi because most of them did not understand the language. They used Twi because it could reach larger audiences and the people could relate to the films more. Most of the filmmakers did not have any formal training in filmmaking but because of the availability of the video medium and its flexibility and low cost, most of them learnt on the job whiles others were experimenting with the medium. Mr Tsumasi an actor and film producer, who has been in the industry since 1987, has produced films like Murder in the City, Yaa Asantewaa and Azonto King. He explained that there are two kinds of filmmaking in Kumasi. The first is the Alaha- With this kind of filmmaking; films are made based on a subject or an issue at a particular period like a political statement, a dance, a popular slogan etc. These films are not scripted but scenarios are created around the issues and are acted out and produced. The second is the conventional way of filmmaking where films are scripted and properly shot like any other film (Quist-Haynes, 2012, p 7).
Written by, Emmanuel Quist-Haynes (Art Director)
Agyemang, J. O. T. (2013), Who Killed the Ghanaian Film Industry? JOT Agyemang takes us Through How It Happened. Retrieved 8th May, 2015 from http://www.ghanacelebrities.com/2013/10/22/killed-ghana-film-industry-jot-agyemang-takes-us-happened/
Ellerson, Beti (2013). Anita Afonu; Preserving Ghana’s Cinematic Treasures. Retrieved 8th May, 2015 from http://www.africanwomenincinema.blogspot.in/2013/12/anita-afonu-preserving-ghanas-cinematic-.html?m=1
Quist-Haynes, Emmanuel (2012). Filmmaking in Kumasi: A 2012 Field Trip Report. Unpublished student report. Accra: NAFTI.
GNA, (2014). GFIC Sale Destroyed Film Industry. Retrieved 8th May, 2015 from http://www.ghananewsagency.org/social/gfic-sale-destroyed-film-industry–76336
Nanabigne, V. (2001). Cinema in Ghana. History, Ideology and Popular Culture. PhD thesis. Bergen: University of Bergen.
Ukadike, F.N. (200). Images of the ‘Reel’ Thing: African Video-Films and the Emergence of a New Cultural Art. Socials Identities.