Kukurantumi, The Road To Accra: Ghana Movies So Far


“Kukurantumi, the road to Accra,” a “real film” (i.e. shot on 35mm camera and distributed in the big format), directed by King Ampaw and co-produced by Ghana and Germany in 1983, was one of the first Ghanaian films to be shown on television in many European countries. I personally watched the film in 1985 on a Finnish television channel.
This film was a departure from the first films that were made by
Bob Cole of blessed memory. King Ampaw’s latest movie was the comedy “No time to die,” in 2007 also shot in the big format. Even before “Kukurantumi”, Kwaw Ansah directed one of the most popular Ghanaian
films ever: “Love brewed in the African Pot” in 1981. This film, with
post-production work outside Ghana, was extremely popular in other African countries too.
It was reported that in Kenya, the cinema houses featuring the usual Hollywood and Indian fare, were empty as people trooped to watch the Ghanaian movie. This was also a “real” film rather than a video film. As a result of the colonial experience, English speaking countries in Africa have not been as good at making feature films as the French speaking countries which have had help from France in such films. The Senegalese novelist, Sembene Ousmane, known as The Father of African Film, made the first ever feature film directed by a Sub-Saharan African in 1966 with his Le Noire de…). The English speaking countries have been better at documentaries since the British themselves have been good in making documentary films – a tradition they brought to Ghana too.
The Gold Coast Film Unit was set up as part of the Information Services as far back as 1948. The Ghana Film Industry Corporation was created by government in 1971. The corporation was sold off in 1996 with a large percentage of the holdings going to the Malaysians. Even before the sale, serious film making in Ghana was at a low ebb
also due to the difficult economic times the country was facing. Individual Ghanaians were too poor to undertake the making of feature films. Cheap handheld video cameras were not available at that time. The few Ghanaian films that were produced during that era were of poor quality.
The availability of cheap hand-held video cameras and easy editing on home computers changed the cinema scene in Ghana. But the Nigerians hit that trail long before us. They didn’t face the same economic problems. The Nigerian film industry took advantage of the lack of local production in Ghana and swarmed the Ghanaian market with their video films. Actors like Genevieve Nnaji, Ramsey Noah, the midgets Aki
and Popo became heroes in Ghana. The Nigerians had a head start over the Ghanaians in the production of video movies. The local Nigerian market was big enough to sustain them. The films were mostly made in pidgin English which most Nigerians and Ghanaians could understand. The success reinforced itself as the Nigerians gained in
Their films became widespread in Africa gaining more popularity with the common availability of VCD and DVD players and new television channels. Soon, there was talk of a Nollywood. Today, Nigeriam films are watched all over Africa even in the French speaking countries. During the civil war in Cote d’Ivoire, the rebels stopped fighting when a shipment of Nigegian VCD films arrived from Lagos.
Because of the age old relationship between the two countries, Ghana, perhaps, became the second largest market for the Nigerians. Ghana had to hit back at the Nigerian onslaught. Our local efforts were feeble at first. It was not until the late 90s before we witnessed the evolvement of a booming video feature film industry in our country. The demise of the state-owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation gave
opportunities to untrained people of different backgrounds – from camera projectionists to car mechanics – who took ordinary VHS cameras, wrote brief outlines, assembled actors even from the streets and produced full-fledged “feature films” which became popular in urban Ghana.
The professional film-makers looked at the initiatives of the non-professional video film makers with suspicion. They were, however, astounded by their popularity and extraordinary success, especially in Accra. The professionals decided to come in and help in improving the quality of film-making in Ghana. They began by screening films
in the local cinemas with the view to generating funds to enter into full time production in video format.
It was around this time in 1999 when talented actors were discovered including Van Vicker, Nana Amma McBrown and Adu Kofi, a.k.a Agya Koo,. The latter was immediately accepted, admired and applauded by all Ghanaians for his acting prowess and comic antics. His appearance in video films dealt a heavy blow to the Nigeran video film boom in Ghana. On the other hand, Ghana Film Industry was booming thanks to Agya Koo. The quality of filming, editing, production and presentation improved tremendously.
Agya Koo was born in 1970 and raised in Kumasi, Ashanti Region. His career began in the early 90s as a comedian with the “Key Soap concert party,” where he took up and maintained the stage name Agya Koo. In 1999 he made his screen début on the popular movie, “Kumasi Yonko.” Since then Agya Koo never looked back. He sowed a seed which helped the plant of the Ghana Film Industry to germinate. It was his role in “Obinnim awieye” that made him a household name and a force to reckon with in the local movie industry.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Agya Koo has contributed immensely in redeeming Ghanaian movies but in the late 70s there were actors like Super OD, S.K Oppong and the “Osofo Dadzie group,” Maame Dokono, Kofi Abrantie and the “Obra group,” Awaakye, Idikoko, Adwoa Smart and many more contributed in no small measure in arousing public interest in Ghanaian films. Most of them seem to have been forgotten.
Criticism has been levelled against the film producers for allowing men and women to engage in mock sex, deep kisses and unwholesome dressimg which expose the inner thighs of women. These are still very much against the traditional Ghanaian sense of decorum. Agya Koo has stated that he will never appear in a film with high level of
indecency in it.
Other criticisms levelled against film production is that the script is weak and simple. Sometimes storylines end abruptly without any conflict resolution or tips to viewers as to how to rework the resolutions themselves. Many of the films cater for the lowest common denominators of the viewing public. There are more comedies than
tragedies. This is understandable because viewers need to laugh off the problems many of them are going through.
However, other genres like high drama, thrillers, psycho-drama, fantasy and science fiction must be considered seriously by the producers and the film industry. As for the purely “art film” or the so-called “indies”, it will be too much to ask Ghanaian film makers to indulge in such “art for art’s sake” (Arts gratia artis). The Ghana film industry and the producers must ensure that the various parts of a film are ready before they are brought to the market. There is also the complaint by the public that Ghanaian films are just full of Juju, witchcraft, quarrelling and jealousy of women.
Around 2004, the Ghanaian market became uncompromisingly hard for Nigerian film producers. They felt that the only way to get into the Ghanaian market again was to feature some of the popular Ghanaian actors. An agreement was immediately entered between the Nigerian producers and their Ghanaian counterparts. This led to the joint production of films where Ghanaian and Nigerian actors assume
different roles in a common film. In such cooperation, Ghanaians have never accepted second fiddle roles. In the film, “Love is wicked,” Von Vicker shared equal billing with Jennifer Okeke.
There are other films like “Men in Love”, “Golden Lady, in which Ghanaians Jimornu and Nadia Buari respectively shared equal billing with Nigerian actors. In the following films, there are two or more Ghanaian actors featuring side by side with Nigerian actors. In “Heatwave,” Kofi Adjololo and Ekow Smith Asante were featured. Majida Michelle and Kofi Adjololo featured in “Shakira.” Three Ghanaian actors/actresses, Majeed Michelle, Naana Hayford and Kofi Adjololo
were featured in “The Beef.” Today, the Ghanaian authorities have started demanding fees from Nigerian actors and directors working in Ghana.
The Nigerians are still way ahead of the Ghanaians. Many Ghanaians still prefer Nigerian films to local products. This is actually an African-wide phenomenon. Nollywood has become a phenomenon the likes of which cannot be seen in other African countries. Ghanaians are still debating whether to nickmame our film industry “Ghollywood” (a misnomer, actually) or something more native. European film channels
devoted to African movies show mostly Nigerian ones. The savvy Nigerians use local actors in their major markets across Africa. Other African actors now troop in to Lagos to get film roles – even from French speaking African countries! In Ghana, we can’t even cooperate with the countries that are our immediate neighbours because of
language difficulties.
The Ghanaian film producers must begin to think about producing 35mm films instead of concentrating only on video films. It is such films that can take part in the major film festivals, the biggest of which is the biennal FESPACO held in nearby Ouagadougou. Despite Nigeria’s numerous production of films, only one Nigerian film has ever won best film in this prestigeous festival. The Nigerian, Newton Aduaka,
won in 2007 with the film, “Ezra.”
One Ghanaian also won in 1989. It was Kwaw Ansah who won the prize in 1989 with “Heritage Africa”. More Ghanaians must seek to distinguish themselves at this prestigeous level. The festival does not allow video movies. It is only through the production of 35mm films that Ghanaian films can be shown on foreign screens. Many European cities have their own African Film Festivals. They don’t show video films and these festivals are dominated by films produced in the French speaking African countries with the odd film coming from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and, very rarely, Ghana.
It is however, evident that Ghanaian producers and actors have taken a great stride and there is no turning back. Even though these films are video films it is a beginning and we can seriously take on the Nigerian challenge. We can also hope that they will gradually graduate into more serious “big-budget” movies shot in the big format and aimed at the film theatres rather than home videos. Afterall, film, as a
serious art form, is best when viewed on the big screen. We can do it. Afterall, we have one of the oldest film schools in Africa – NAFTI that has trained people from all over the continent.
Source: Stephen Atta Owusu