Legon International Film Event 2014 Reflection

Between the 11 and 14 March 2014, I attended the first Legon International Film Event held at the stunning campus of the University of Ghana’s Legon campus.

 

Main Library at University of Ghana, Legon, Accra

Main Library at University of Ghana, Legon, Accra

The sprawling campus is situated on the east side of Accra and is home to over 50,000 students. I was the guest of Africanus Aveh, the head of Theatre Arts in the School of Performing Arts, and his team. He and his team are expanding film practice within the department with a view to complimenting the provision provided by the National Film And Television Institute (NAFTI), which is a school built around the traditional film school model, such at the National Film and Television School in the UK. Film studies at university level is in its infancy, though film training through NAFTI (and its predecessors) has been taking place in Ghana since 1932. It was therefore fantastic to see the efforts being made by Africanus and many others in Ghana to get film onto the educational map.

Erik with Africanus Aveh and Team

Francis Gbormittah, Samuel Bengr, Erik Knudsen, Africanus Aveh and Louise Akanlu

The aim of the conference/festival was to bring practitioners and academics together to discuss the challenges and opportunities for Ghanaian film. It was also a small film festival showcasing a number of films, including premiers. The Raven On The Jetty was the opening film of the festival and I did a Q&A following the screening. I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the film, particularly as I wasn’t quite sure how my subject matter, and the style of the film, would go down with an African audience. My film, Heart of Gold, also showed at the festival and I was really pleased to be there for a lively discussion about the issues the film raised. I was also there to give the keynote address to set the ball rolling for the conference and to raise a number of issues and themes as I saw them. My talk was entitled The Meaning Of Independence: Challenges And Opportunities For Ghanaian Film In An Age Of Abundance.

It was an honour to share the panel, after my talk, with some of the truly great and good of Ghanaian cinema: Kwaw Ansah in particular, who some may know as the director of the classic Ghanaian films such as Heritage Africa and Love Brewed In An African Pot and Chris Hesse, the former Director of the Ghana Film Industry Corporation. I first met Chris Hesse and Kwaw Ansah as a young man in 1989 when preparing for my first feature length film, One Day Tafo, though I don’t think they remembered.

 

Grandees of Ghanaian Cinema Ernest Abbeyguaye, Chris Hesse and Kwaw Ansah

Ernest Abbeyguaye, Chris Hesse and Kwaw Ansah

Quite apart from my contribution to the conference/festival, I was pleased to attend much of the conference and learned a great deal about what is happening in Ghanaian film. It is clear that the film scene in Ghana is incredibly vibrant and entrepreneurial: in peak months some 125 locally produced feature films are distributed. There are competing sectors – Kumawood are films from the second city, Kumasi, and Galliwood are the Accra equivalent. These are films that are made very quickly, are often unscripted and star local talent and always, importantly, in local languages. These films are much more popular than any western films, such as Hollywood films, and there is quite a substantial industry built around them. Most of the consumption of these films is from VCDs and DVDs, with some exhibition taking place in small local cinema venues and they are quite clearly aimed at home audiences. Unlike Francophone cinema, which grew out of a cultural colonisation, sub-Saharan African cinema is very raw and ‘untrained’. While the French colonised with their culture, the British were only interested in trade and business. As a consequence, Francophone African cinema has a very French feel about it, but the raw films of Galliwood or Kumawood are very African. Indeed, were it possible for these filmmakers to transcend the powerful legacy of the oral tradition to embrace and translate this tradition to play on the audio visual strengths of the cinematic medium, and to develop a higher technical expectation, a uniquely African way of expressing through cinema may well emerge.

Outside of this mass produced product, there are a number of popular quality films and interestingly at this moment in time, the two most popular film directors are women: Leila Djansi and Shirley Frimpong-Manso. There are clear tensions in the industry, mainly revolving around the debate around quality. The educated elite wish to see better quality films being produced within a more structured film policy environment, supported by training, whereas many of the commercial producers are highly sceptical and suspicious of this kind of intervention. The conference and festival were in part to try and stimulate a debate and to create a dialogue and I think it is a wonderful initiative that I look forward to following in years to come.

At the end of the conference, I was very moved when the conference decided to thank me by enstooling me: making me a chief with an official title. I have been given the title of  TOGBE KORKU AGBENYA I. The middle name is because I am born on a Wednesday and the last name means something like a storyteller who brings life.

Erik Knudsen being Enstooled

Erik Knudsen being Enstooled as Togbe Korku Agbenya I

It was a wonderful enlightening trip and I wish all the great people I met all the best fortune with developing a cinematic culture in Ghana and look forward to helping and contributing where I can.