Ghana’s Cinema culture - Dead or alive?
"I remember I was growing up in Keta, we had cinema houses such as Premiere Cinema just across the road from my house.”
“And there was Paradise and a number of others all in Keta. Cinemas were dotted all over the place.”
“When I came to Accra, we used to go to Orion Cinema and it was always full every time. It was a form of recreation a lot of families looked forward to. I noticed that there were cinema houses almost everywhere but the cinema culture now is not like before.”
These words by Ivan Quashigah, a renowned film producer and CEO of Farm House Productions will certainly not be different from that of Ghanaians of his age group, considering that the cinema experience resonates well with many who are above age 40.
Just like Ivan Quashigah, a number of cinema going lovers can only savour the memory of recounting how patrons of the cinemas clogged the gates due to huge patronage. Movies were not only shown in the evenings and nights, there were midday slots too.
Disappointedly as it may sound, many young people cannot boast of such memories and cinema experiences at then popular places — Opera and Palladium in Accra Central; Orion at Kwame Nkrumah Circle; Roxy, Royal and Globe Cinemas at Adabraka; Regal on the Osu-La road, and Rex Cinema opposite Accra hockey pitch, among others.
Back in the day, these places were highly revered and spoken of but that cannot be said today when these facilities which were home to movie freaks have only become historical figures and structures in tales about the once vibrant cinema culture.
For Mr Quashigah and other stakeholders in Ghana’s film industry, there should be pragmatic measures to revive the cinema culture which is greatly affecting the fortunes of the sector.
Speaking at the Graphic Showbiz’s X Dialogue series on the topic, ‘Ghana Cinema Agenda: The Need for Community Cinemas’ recently, Mr Quashigah acknowledged that television, computers, hand-held media players and the internet have impacted how people watch movies lately and have greatly affected patronage of cinema houses in Ghana.
However, the said development has no significant impact on the vibrant cinema culture in other African countries, with reference to neighbouring Nigeria where people were smart enough to understand and appreciate the new era of digitalisation and made a move to reflect the changing times.
This gap which has led to the “coma” state of Ghana’s cinema culture needs resuscitation and it is in line with this objective and commitment that the National Film Authority (NFA) headed by its Chief Executive Officer, Juliet Asante, is leading the way by hosting the first Africa Cinema Summit in Ghana.
The three-day summit, which is the first of its kind in Africa, starts on Tuesday, November 14 and ends on Thursday, November 16, at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel in Accra. It falls within the broader agenda and objectives of the NFA to highlight opportunities for cinema growth and the required roles of players in the sector.
It will provide a platform for stakeholders in the industry value chain across the world to discuss challenges and explore potentials and opportunities in the African cinema space.
As a speaker on the Graphic Showbiz’s Twitter (X) Dialogue series as well, Ms Asante said the Pan-African approach of the summit would impact the African cinema industry by spearheading conversations on the need for Africans, particularly Ghana to tell their rich history, culture and stories through films.
“Africans are storytellers and story lovers and if we don’t find a way to get the largest youth population into the cinemas, Africa will not be the only loser; major businesses may collapse and a great culture of going to the cinema may be lost to the world forever, depriving us of the magic of cinema,” she said.
The 2020 UNESCO Report on African cinema said Africa has 1,700 cinemas serving a population of over 1.3 billion. This means that one cinema screen per 787,402 people, making it the most under-served continent in terms of movie theatres.
She acknowledged the need for Africa to rise to the occasion, the reason for which the summit is bringing together major players and decision-makers such as government officials, film authorities and commissions from various African countries to explore ways to address challenges in the industry.
Activities lined up for the summit include a cocktail and networking session, film screening, conferences and exhibitions, awards night and studio presentations.
The Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, will be the special guest. Speakers at the event include Juliet Asante, Co-founder of Film House Group, Moses Babatope; Country Manager, Silverbird Cinemas, Funmi Onuma; Senior Vice-President, Theatre Development, Imax Corporation, John Schreiner; CEO Filmhouse Group, Kene Okwuosa; Angel Investor, Marie Lora-Mungai; Producer, Daniel Damah and President of Cinema Exhibitors Association of Ghana, Ope Ajayi.
Others are Deputy CEO, Ster-Kinekor Theatres, Motheo Matsau; Founding Partner, Entertainment Solution Services Ltd, Rob Arthur; Film-maker, Inkblot Studios, Chinazo Onuzo; East Africa Marketing Manager, Century Cinemax, Jotham Micah; Founder, Whitebench, Oliver Dock and Head, Cinemanext Africa and Middle East, Khalil Staily.
With Ghana’s cinema culture steadily heading for extinction and some of the once vibrant cinema houses currently being used as restaurants, offices, nightclubs and churches, one may not be far from the conclusion that the cinema culture in Ghana is virtually dead.
But others such as the Business Manager for Silverbird Cinemas, Nana Yaw Twum-Barimah Yeboah, disagree with such opinions.
He argues that there is still high interest for cinemas but the unavailability of community cinemas has plagued the sector.
In his words, “We've not lost the cinema-going culture; it's because we have few community cinema centres”.