Heart of Gold is a documentary project which takes the filmmaker back to his country of birth, Ghana, to explore how traditional story-telling may help shape a new approach to documentary forms. The documentary will revolve around the changing relationship local people have to the precious and mystical metal, gold. By exploring this changing relationship, the aim is to discover what kind of stories are told about gold, and how these stories are told, and how these stories and their mode of delivery may help the filmmaker create documentary narrative approaches which can encompass both realism and mysticism.

Aims & Objectives

To research alternatives to the empirical and factually based classic documentary narrative’s approach to story telling.

To examine how such alternatives can reveal different aspects of human experience not generally revealed by these classic approaches; in particular, to explore the relationship between fact and mysticism.

To identify practical ingredients which could form the basis for cinematic practitioners to further evolve non-empirical approaches to making documentary films.

To create practice based work – a documentary film – which reveals, illustrates and exemplifies the findings.

To explore African modes of story-telling, in particular modes in which reality and mysticism blend.

To create a documentary practice outcome, whose form and approach can shed new light on the plight of aspects of African life.

To write and publish a refereed article based on research findings.

Research Question or Problem

There are aspects of human experience that are not adequately dealt with, or revealed, through classic documentary narrative paradigms. These are questions which can only be adequately explored through practice and through this practice the intention is to explore the following questions:-

First research question: How can one employ a practical approach to cinematic documentary narrative which goes beyond the dominant paradigm exemplified by elements such as cause and effect, conflict and resolution, and psychologically explicable situations, character motivations and narrative motivations, to reveal qualities of spirituality and transcendence without reducing these elements to fit a paradigm that ultimately contradicts the very nature of these transcendental and spiritual qualities? Within this context, how can one practically create a cinematic documentary narrative that is essentially driven by the experiential rather than by meaning, representation or the illustrative?

Second research question: How far can visual imagery, colours, shapes, objects, camera angles and sound be used to bring to life the essence of predominantly oral African story-telling traditions to reveal non-materialistic perspectives on life and living? Such African traditions often freely, and equally, mix what we in the developed world think of as separate incongruous elements, such as reality, fact, superstition, myth, fantasy, spiritual reality. While certain genres within fiction may bring together some of these elements in an agreed fictional paradigm, how can one bring such elements together within a paradigm of fact?

Third research question: By focusing the subject matter of the documentary practice output on the changing relationship of local people in the Akim area of Ghana – know for its abundant gold, yet still materially poverty-stricken – how can one create a documentary narrative about such a relationship seamlessly and equally incorporating such elements as fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, the material and the spiritual, hope and despair and bring to life a living metaphor, without reducing the form to social realism?

Research Context

What defines the documentary genre is also at the root of its limitations; an epistemology which ties it to the factual or empirical experience of life. While in early British documentary, there were some attempts to discover the poetry of documentary (Humphrey Jennings, for example) much of contemporary documentary is confined to a perspective on life in which the factual is primarily what can empirically be observed, then supported by the psychologically explicable. Social realism, observational documentary and interview-based documentary are examples of variations of a genre which broadly lives within the same classical paradigm of cause and effect, conflict and resolution.

There are a number of, usually, non-UK examples of documentary which have attempted to break away from this paradigm: the late Jean Rouch, for example, whose work in Africa – in fact in Ghana – shows how the documentary has the potential to go beyond the material surface of the world to reveal a spiritual dimension; or Dvortsevoy, whose work Bread Day or In The Dark sees him move away from any notion of cause and effect, conflict and resolution in order to reveal a dimension of life which social realism cannot adequately reveal or portray.

While most of the world rushes headlong into embracing a largely materialistic engagement and perspective on life, some parts of the world still have remnants of cultures in which the spiritual, the mental and the physical occupy equal status in epistemology. Though, increasingly, Africa, too, is part of these developments, the difficult postcolonial era sees it struggling to fully achieve western ideologies and values. Many in the West look to places like Africa to re-discover spiritual identities which have been lost in our predominantly materialistic world, but perhaps we don’t have the tools, the language, the story-telling mechanism to reach this epistemology some long for. In African and Latin American literature, we often hear commentators from the developed world using terminology such as ‘magical realism’ to describe this seamless blending of realism, mysticism, magic, fact, history, politics and morality in the creation of cultural product.

Arguably, British documentary is in decline, in terms of the breadth and depth of what is produced. The commercial climate of contemporary television, the traditional funder of much important documentary work of the past, has seen an increased dependence on formulas which reinforce the need for drama, conflict and explicable cause and effect in most documentaries. The HE context provides one of very few contexts within which the exploring filmmaker can seek to expand and develop the language of film.

Research Methods

There are three stages to this project: first, research into existing stories, myths, legends and artifacts in the Akim area of Ghana which revolve around gold, people’s relationship to gold, the cultural relationship to gold, and the economic and political relationship to gold, documented in writing and, most importantly, told by ordinary Ghanaians on camera; second, an analysis and interpretation of these stories, by the filmmaker, and the subsequent creation of a documentary story building on the outcomes of this analysis; and third, a number of screenings of the finished documentary, accompanied by seminars, reflections of which will be the basis for a refereed article on the research outcomes.