Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kweku Ananse comes to life with a Chest of Stories

Earlier tonight, I was at the Goethe Institut in Accra for the first time in more than 10 years. The last time I was there, I had attended a literary event as a student of Presec. That night, my love for poetry was born. But let's talk about that in another blog post. Tonight, I was there for the premiere of "Kweku Ananse And The Chest of Stories", directed by Johannes Preuß from Germany. I don't remember the last time I watched anything Kweku Ananse related and either I am too old to watch "By the fireside", I don't have a TV or they just don't make "By the fireside" anymore. I love Anansesem though and I wrote this blog post a long time ago on GhanaThink's GhanaConscious Blogs. I do have this animated movie though - "Ananse Must Die". I was excited to see this film and I booked it on my calendar. And on this one too.

The premiere started with a documentary which I missed. But we can all watch it at the end of this blog post. Then Johannes gave some insight into the movie and the choice of the main character Kweku Ananse. We can't belittle the fact that we need to document Kweku Ananse stories in cinema  as the art of storytelling by the fireside is dying and the art of storytelling in the living room is being relegated to not important by Ghanaian parents. Yes, I went there. Anyway, per Johannes' little spiel, I tweeted ...
The movie started out with an everyday scene in a small village which moved into a boy finding a spider and playing with it. Some dadabee kids run away from spiders but not this hard-knock village boy. An elderly man who was sitting nearby told the kid that he was playing with one of the most 'dangerous' animals in the world, called Kweku Ananse. And then our storytelling episode was born. But quickly, there was a telling revelation.

Yup, God is in the story was a 'she'. Not a woman, but a young girl. I asked after the movie why this was so and the explanation was that Johannes and crew wanted to turn the tables a bit. Besides, in traditional customary Ghana, we don't exactly agree that God is a man. The Ga people call God "Naa Nyonmo" where Naa is a title for a woman. It's not the same, but the Akan people also have "Asaase Yaa" (mother of the earth). Johannes said he didn't think God would want to represent himself as an old Santa Claus type person with a beard. Instead, God would choose the most beautiful being it could be - a small beautiful girl.

If you know the folk tale of how stories became named after Ananse, then you know what happens in the movie. Except, the movie is adapted from the story. Kweku did go into the sky. According to the movie, God's habitat is as village like as where Kweku Ananse lives. But what did you expect? :-)
The movie was completely awesome! The twist at the end was really clever as well. I will watch it again and again. The shots and imagery were top-notch, the story flowed, the subtitles were good, and there was even a nice fight scene. We had the various "spirit" effects you see in Ghanaian movies but with a nicer touch. The movie was in Twi but the sound quality was not as irritating as in many local language movies either.

Like many short films, budgets are always a challenge. Johannes found a great way to cut budget which would really be a lesson for many people. He used free music from Creative Commons, worked with actors and actresses who are not 'famous' and still played their roles well, and he shot it with a small Canon camera (but a good one though). The cast were not necessarily experienced but they did quite well. The man who played Kweku Ananse had very little acting experience but plenty of storytelling episodes. The one who played Ntikuma wants to be an actor who is still looking for his big break. The whole movie was shot in about 2 months. You think that's shot? Go to Ashtown in Kumasi and sit on a set of a Miracle films movie. Even shorter.

The movie will be coming to a film festival or screening near you. Stay tuned to this to find it. Or you'd find it elsewhere too. There are more Kweku Ananse movies coming. I met Anthoni Jordi-Owusu who had a little input into this movie and he's working on one, he tweeted this after the movie premiere. There's also the Focus Features backed film called Kweku Ananse by Akosua Adoma Owusu who I blogged about once on her short film "Me Broni Ba".

Edited: Watch a documentary on Youtube of Johannes' work.
Watch the trailer for the short film here.
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