Cry the beloved movie industry
In the last two months, a number of events have taken place that seem to confirm that the Ghanaian film industry is not dead; that even if there are no inspiring films, there are hopeful film-makers.
One was the appointment, by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, of a committee of film-makers and academics to come out with proposals to Parliament for Legislative Instruments (LIs) that will give teeth to the provisions of the Development and Classification of Film Act, 2016.
The second was the order by the sector Minister, Mrs Catherine Afeku, to the Copyright Administrator to take steps to release to the Audiovisual Rights Society of Ghana (ARSoG), funds that had accrued to the society but were being held by the Copyright Office because of disagreements.
I have no comment on the ARSOG matter, except to say that the society has my sympathy.
As the son of Mfantse parents, I am very much aware that one cannot be said to have a meal unless his/her hand is in the dish.
To borrow a biblical word, hard times beget red eyes.
You can condemn me all you want but I am convinced that more than 80 per cent of Ghanaian movies will not make the world stage.
The cause, however, is not in our lack of skills.
It is funding.
Twenty or more years ago, the godfather of Ghanaian films, Kwaw Paintsil Ansah, topped all of Africa when his ‘Heritage Africa’ came off the best at the Pan African Film Festival in Burkina Faso.
His first feature length film, ‘Love Brewed in the African Pot’, won the Jury special award.
His second, ‘Heritage Africa’, ten years later, topped the whole Africa.
The other side of the Kwaw Story that is not often told is the making of those two movies.
He had to use his father-in-law’s building as collateral for a bank loan to make ‘Love Brewed in the African Pot’.
The least said about funding for the making of ‘Heritage Africa,’ the better.
People are wont to cite King Ampaw’s movies.
What they forget, or do not know, is that they were co-productions with German film companies.
Why German? The secret is simple.
Having trained an African in German film schools, the Germans needed to make a success out of this brilliant African.
I have said this elsewhere, and I repeat here, that I wish everybody in the industry could have the Shirley Frimpong Manso-MTN type of partnership, but I know that is wishing for the moon. We don’t have too many MTNs around.
So the situation has been created where our trained highly skilled NAFTI products have to be lucky to get a Kumawood executive producer to invest in their dreams.
Problem is, those producers have their own productions to finance, and their resources are not inexhaustible.
That is why after more than 20 years of agitation, the state has had to put in a mechanism called the Film Fund in the recently passed ‘Development and Classification of Film Act, 2016’ to make funds available to finance Ghanaian movies.
Article 29 (1) of the Film Act says that the money for the fund may be applied to viable financeiat enterprises that are mostly in their primary stages of development, including full-length feature films, creative documentaries and animated films for public education, on attitudinal change, television productions, television genres such as drama, animated serials, sitcoms, soaps and comedy “designed to facilitate attitude and behaviour change of the citizenry.”
Indeed sub-clause (1)d promises funding for “the promotion of the release of feature films in terms of publicity materials and on radio and television advertisement”.
Even more heart-warming is 1(e) which “provides for support for the training of professionals in both public and private training institutions”.
Is this possible? I say it is doable. All it takes is political will.
When in 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan created a $200 million revolving fund for Nigeria’s film industry, he did not need a law to compel him.
All he needed was the will.
The rest is history; in less than five years after this, the investment paid off. Nollywood films helped Nigeria to climb over South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy!
In other countries in Africa, such as Ghana, we will not have a Goodluck.
It will take agitation. That is why I am surprised that after nearly two years after the passage of the Film Act, our ARSOG, Film Producers Association of Ghana (FIPAG), the Film Guild and the NAFTI-based Academy of Film and Cinematic Arts have not found it urgent to mount agitations to get themselves the almighty Film Fund, until a stakeholder forum, initiated by the minister herself, brought up the issue of LIs.
To Minister Abelema Afeku, I can give an assurance. Knowing what I know, I can confidently state that the likes of Shirley Frimpong Manso, Abdul Salaam Mumuni, Juliet Asante and Ivan Quarshigah are world-class.
But how can they make films if they have to mortgage their houses (if they have) or the immovable property of their parents and in-laws to raise the money?
Perhaps the solution lies in the recent policy of Mrs Afeku’s ministry, that funds made available to the private sector for artistic development will be treated as loans.
The state will require beneficiaries to pay back.
That is more sustainable, I think.