Thursday, September 18, 2008

The story of the Ghanaian movie 'industry'

Many years ago, we used to have movie cinemas in Ghana. When movies were being advertised, they would say - showing at Rex Cinema, Roxy Cinema, among others. These days we don't hear that anymore. When that guy with the loud voice is promoting the new Agya Koo movie and the new Van Vicker flick, you are directed to the same stores that distribute Ghanaian music for you to buy the latest movies. There is everything wrong with this trend, but let's go back to see how we got here in the first place.

When I was in Presec around 2001, Ghanaian movies were up and coming. We had movies like Stab in the Dark, Stab in the Dark part 2, Ripples, Diabolo, You can't laugh, Who killed Nancy, among others. Some of our major actors even joined forces with Danny Glover and Omar Epps in 'Deadly Voyage'. We were encouraged by the productions. We had movie houses like Harry Laud Productions, Miracle Films, Venus Films, among others. Ghanaian movies were lauded, they were interesting and people actually wanted to watch and buy them.

Soon enough, Nigerian movies infiltrated the Ghanaian market led by Genevieve Nnaji and Ramsey Nouah. Ghanaians loved them and eventually, our movie houses partnered with their Nigerian counterparts in producing Ghanaian-Nigerian movies. It looked like a good idea but what it did was it swallowed the budding Ghanaian movie industry. Later, it became much cheaper for Ghanaian movie houses to sell Nigerian movies than shoot new Ghanaian movies and Ghanaian movies faded out of the system. Nollywood was born and Ghana was its second major market. Nollywood is now the third biggest movie industry (after Hollywood and Bollywood) and has fans all over Africa, America, Europe and all the way to the Carribean. Genevieve Nnaji became so big in Ghana that when she took a break to release an album, the album was produced by Ghanaian producers, videos shot by Ghanaians, beats made by Ghanaians and she even sang in Twi!

These movie houses we had were in the business as businessmen. If it was much cheaper to sell and market Nigerian movies, the expedient thing to do was to stop the Ghanaian productions. As a result, our Psalm Ajetefios, Grace Norteys, Brew Riversons, Pascaline Edwards', Nat Baninis, Akofa Adjani Asiedus, had to find different jobs since they were no screenings and castings for them. The local producers concentrated on television series. With television, they could get sponsorship and at least balance the books. The move worked, it gave birth to shows like Sun City, Things we do for love, etc. Those who couldn't get roles in these were cast in the good old Akan Dramas and Thursday Theatres. Cinemas like Rex and Roxy stopped showing movies and became white elephants.

Fast forward to December 2006. I was holidaying in Ghana and this time around town, something was different. The Nigerian movie posters had been replaced by Ghanaian ones. Movie trailers were a feature on Ghana television as much as advertisements for crusades and conventions. We had new movie superstars - Agya Koo, Nadia Buari, Van Vicker and Jackie Appiah. There was a buzz for Ghanaian movies. I was so excited that I bought 8 different films. Actually, I bought 16 because when you buy 'Ka wo nan to so', you have to buy Part 2. Parts 1 and 2 come hand in hand. You couldn't rent the movies like the times of old. This was a business, and in order to cut losses, selling the movies outright was the best thing to do.

Ghanaian movies were back! Agya Koo, a one-time Concert party champion (after the likes of Nkomode and Bishop Bob Okalla), was a movie star. He was in every movie (just like Genevieve was in almost every movie in Nollywood's infant stages). The movies that featured him were pretty much 'Key Soap Concert Party' on the big screen. They were hilarious, mostly thanks to Agya Koo's antics and lines. Most of these movies were set in Kumasi and these movies became known as Kumasi movies. If you heard a movie with a title in Twi, it was probably a Kumasi movie with Agya Koo as the main actor.

These 'Kumasi movies' were nice, but their fans were mostly around the Twi-speaking population in Ghana. The buzz traveled across to the Twi-understanding population in Amsterdam, Hamburg, New York, Columbus, the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), Worcester, areas. These movies had subtitles but that didn't endear them to the Accra crowds who thought these movies were too local. The Accra crowds had an answer though; along came Venus Films and AA productions. The crew that had given us 'Ripples' and 'A Stab in the Dark' were back and were producing 'Darkness of Sorrow', 'Mummy's Daughter' and 'Beyonce the President's Daughter'. These productions bore a resemblance to the pomp and pageantry associated with Nollywood movies - flashy cars, flamboyant dresses, flabbergasting houses, fly ladies, etc. These have become known as "Accra movies". They are set in Accra or the elite places in Accra, and they are in English. They had their movie stars too. Van Vicker, a fair complexioned guy, was the main lead actor and quickly developed a large fan base. When he visited New York and the DC area in 2007, he was 'mobbed'. Nadia Buari, a half-caste daughter of famous Ghanaian musician Sidiku Buari', has also become a superstar. She is even dating Michael Essien. Now, that is a celebrity marriage. Jackie Appiah is another star who is also the face of IPMC and is featured on countless billboards in Ghana.

Venus Films used Nollywood's marketing wheels and drove themselves into fame. "Beyonce, the President's Daughter" is probably the most popular movie out of Africa in the last few years and it is a Ghanaian production. It features Van Vicker, Nadia Buari and Jackie Appiah as well. Nadia plays Beyonce who is the daughter of the president and is interested in cute boy Raj (played by Van Vicker). Raj owes his life to Ciara (played by Jackie Appiah) who took him to the hospital after he was shot/robbed and is interested in Ciara only. Beyonce takes steps to take out Ciara throughout the four or so parts of the movie and would do anything to get Raj's love. We probably shouldn't be naming our movies Beyonce and having characters named Ciara but we'll talk more about that in another blog entry. Many Nollywood fans thought "Beyonce" was a Nigerian movie. Nollywood conquered Ghana in the past but on the back of movies like "Beyonce", Ghanaian movies are shooting back into prominence using the same tools that made Nollywood so successful.

Nadia, Van Vicker, Jackie and lately Majid Michel have become marketable stars, even more marketable than their Nigerian counterparts. Together with the "Kumasi movies", they have breathed life back into Ghanaian cinema and Ghanaian cinema has a following. Other movie houses have been formed and revitalised, creating competition and encouraging better productions. There is a lot to be done to sustain the movie industry, make it more appealing and world-class, but at least, there is life. The actors and actresses who disappeared when the Nigerian movies took over Ghanaian entertainment are returning to the big screen. Movie auditions are being held all over the country and the youth are flocking to get the chance to be the next big star. They even have a reality show on television - next movie star.

In my next 'movie' blog entry, I will discuss how the Ghanaian movie industry can get better and produce world-class movies that will make every single Ghanaian pay attention. We've created the buzz but now it's time to descend onto academy awards, international film festivals, independent cinemas and home theatres.

In the meantime, visit these websites to watch Ghanaian movies.
Ghana Cinema
Ghana Nation
VibeGhana
GhanaWeb
Ghana's Entertainment
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