Thursday, March 25, 2010

Watching and fanning the flames of African movies

Sometime in 2007, I heard about a Ghanaian movie called 'No Time to die' (NTTD). It had been directed by one King Ampaw (the same man behind Road to Kukurantumi) and starred David Dontoh. Now, the Agoro w'aso twann man is one of Ghana's foremost actors and hadn't been in a movie in awhile. For him to be cast in a leading role had to be a big deal. Big deal it was, because 'No Time to Die' won international awards. The movie went under the radar, was not unable on Youtube or the many websites to watch Ghanaian movies for free. I sought an opportunity to see it. Sometime at the end of January, I saw the movie. It was a surprise. The movie was awesome. So awesome that my other African friends ended up talking about it like I had never heard them talk about another Ghanaian movie. Kudos, King Ampaw!

Sometime last summer, I was appalled at the number of African movies available to be borrowed from the Stanford Libraries' movie collection. I decided to right this. I was going to pimp the system. I searched for all the recent African movies I wanted to watch, made a list and sent the appropriate folks a nice email saying, 'get them'. Yes, get the movies so I don't have to pay to watch them. Obviously, I didn't bother with the Nollywood and (Ghallywood) ones, apart from them being free bonto online, I wasn't a very big fan. Sadly, most of the movies I requested were not on DVD yet, or were still being in shown in international film festivals. I had to wait. Luckily, some were available and Stanford bought the ones they could find. They are still buying them, unless they come and read this blog post and take offence. :-D

When it was announced, we'll be watching an African movie at the Stanford African Students' Association (SASA) meeting circa January 2010, I was excited. It didn't matter if I'd seen the movie before or if it was bad. I wanted 'us' to watch an African movie, together. Lambast it after. Praise it after. Make fun of ourselves after. I mean, whatever. When we assembled for the meeting, and the movie was 'No Time to Die', I was visibly excited! Because I was concentrating on getting some food, I didn't get to see the start of the movie. I must say that the food we were having was a little interesting. We had jollof rice, veggies, fried plantain and chicken. And then we had emotuo (rice balls), for which I was truly impressed. My Ghanaian brother had made them himself. I claim to be a cook but I haven't experimented making emotuo before. The interesting part was, there was no soup to eat the rice balls with. Erm, maybe be it's because we are in the 21st century. Changing times allowed us to have emotuo with baked beans. You could read this and say 'Tofiakwa', 'Not my portion', 'God forbid', etc but these are those times. Get it.

I settled into my chair and started watching the movie. The movie screamed 'Real'. The scenes looked real, the conversations felt real, and the characters felt real. The movie was well-made, it showed a great part of Ghana that many Ghanaians don't appreciate and many non-Ghanaians are unaware of - the coffin business. Ghanaian coffin makers are probably the most creative in the world. They make coffins that look like coca-cola bottles, shoes, benzes, pineapples, 'fishes', sewing machines' etc. See more pictures here. Our main character in NOTD was a hearse driver who drove dead people in coffins between locations. The primary dead person in the movie was the mother of one Esi. Esi bought a coffin that was shaped like a plane for her dead mother because she had always wanted to ride in one. How cute! And the plane was called 'Heaven Airlines'! Esi said, "My mother always wished to fly in an aeroplane, she should get to the ancestors in one".

The movie itself was great. It was an African romantic comedy. It's always interesting how Africans find it funny, strange or interesting when there are romantic scenes in African movies. Like we all don't get busy :-) Like it's almost okay for Hollywood movies to have them but strange to see them in African cinema. I know sometimes it gets overdone like in some movies I will not name, but African cinema is trying, and we should appreciate their efforts, even when they are making mistakes. They need our criticisms and feedback to grow. I feel too many times, we criticize African movies more harshly than we do Hollywood movies. The African ones may not be as good but I guess we are also able to be more critical because we feel we know what African 'life' is like, should be like, can do better, etc. There's a little of PHD (Pull him/her downness) in there. We should support African cinema but we should uplift, champion, publicize, encourage excellence in African cinema. The movie industry needs us to grow and improve.

Anyway, how many African romantic comedies have you heard about? South Africa's White Wedding is one. I don't know of any Nollywood ones. Kenya's Malooned was kinda nice too. NTTD may be the best. In fact, it's right up there with all the best Ghanaian movies. The synopsis for NTTD is: "A hearse driver meets and falls in love with a young, beautiful dancer who is planning an elaborate homegoing celebration for her mother. This love and comedy feature length film follows David as he does everything to win her affection." I strongly recommend it, seek it somewhere or google around to find it to buy. Couldn't find places to buy the movie other than Africanfilm.com. That one sef says $245 so maybe it's for distribution? Will keep y'all posted.

I'll round off this post with an email my friend from Botswana sent to the SASA list titled "Thank you SASA exec for a great movie". She continued
"I just wanted to say thanks to SASA exec for picking such an awesome movie. If you missed the movie for some reason, you have to make sure you see it some time soon. My review: The movie starts off slow and a bit aimless but when it picks up it grips you up until the end. This is an African Romantic Comedy (yes, I said romantic) done really well complete with a kissing scene and a happy ending. For me it is up there with Love Actually and White Wedding. We laughed so hard we nearly fell off our seats and our hearts were warmed by the love story unfolding in front of our very eyes. A bit R-rated at times, a little morbid here and there but none the less a great testament that football is not the only thing Ghana is good at. Watch out South Africa and Nollywood, Ghana (Golliwood, I hear but I am not sure) is teaming with potential. I would say this is a must see for anyone who wants a fun African movie to watch. We must give credit where its due, so big up to Ghana!"
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