Archive for May, 2010

Quickies

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

Leila Djansi works as a writer-producer for Safo and Safo Entertainment, and is founder of the LA based production house Turning Point Pictures. She started off her career in Ghana where she promoted and produced TV shows. She attended the National Film and Television School, Manifold College and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her first production and second screenplay, Together Forever, launched the late actress, Suzzy Williams to stardom.

I decided to feature Leila Djansi as my first example of a storyteller because of her new movie, I sing of a well, a narrative of slavery in which Europeans are totally absent. It is a story of Africans enslaving other Africans, a fact that a lot of people forget. Europeans were not the ones who invented slavery; slavery is an age-old practice, common to every race and tribe. You can watch the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67eVQijlbx4

In an interview with http://reelladies.wordpress.com , Djansi speaks about the Ghanaian Film Industry and some of its shortcomings.

“It is quick. They do everything quickly; it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. They just want it fast. Quickies. But it is a very passionate filmmaking industry. They love what they do and are very eager to learn and advance. Its easy to shoot there, the crew and cast might be a bit difficult because they are not very disciplined and no protocols exist and then with the speed thing, it might get frustrating because things might not get done right. Then you have to realize that these are people who are in this for either fame or money so the art part of it is not there. So when you begin to talk about “creating” you become a “booklong” someone who knows too much. They don’t want that.”

This is another major problem I have with the industry. We copy because we do not give the time needed to create. Quantity is revered over quality, the more films you churn out, the more money you make. This is also the audience’s fault, because the Ghanaian public will buy pretty much anything. Compare production times in other places. Movies usually take over a year to film and go through final editing etc, whereas in Ghana they could take about a month. The problem with that is we end up with piles of poorly thought out plots and half-baked stuff.

I say this because there is serious potential on our continent. Like Djansi says, “we have science fiction in Africa. Lots of it”. Think along the lines of Kenya’s new flick, Pumzi, which took an award at the renowned Cannes Film Festival (watch the trailer for Pumzi here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3elKofS43xM)

. We do not even have to be as futuristic as that. Our deep set spirituality and belief in the supernatural has amazing potential for horror movies. I have often wondered about the famed Madame High Heel and what a good horror movie with her in it would be like. We have so many legends that put Freddie Kreuger and Jason to shame. Imagine if we had built on the movies that used to terrify us as children, Karishika etc? We have amazing ideas, but we do not run with them, we merely drop them by the roadside and pick at other bits of rubbish, like free range chickens.

It is my dream that we will learn that quality is better than quantity, and that we will develop our ideas instead of serving up halfbaked goods.

You can read the rest of the Leila Djansi interview here:

http://reelladies.wordpress.com/2008/07/07/reel-lady-writerproducer-leila-djansi/

Tellers.

Posted in Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

Today I was wandering around an antiques shop in downtown Greencastle, when I met a guy who calls himself Rocky. He’s not from here, he doesn’t like it much, he’s from Indianapolis and he wants to move down to a town in Florida, but his ex-wife moved there before he could. Anyway, that’s not my tale to tell. What was interesting about Rocky is that he started to talk about stories.

He had a couple, he apologized for keeping me so long with old people stories, but I said, “No, old people have the best stories” ( I was proud of that one, came up with it on the spot too), and so he told me. He told me about Eddie and his friend who were in the Royal Canadian Air Force together, and how he tried to convince them to write a book. They thought no one would be interested, and so he told them about a book he was reading, about an ex-serviceman who was in the Air Force but couldn’t fly a plane because his eyes were no good (he was a navigator). He branched off about the book a bit ( “so this guy, right? Was raised by an Indian woman in the desert, and when he’s a young lad she takes him out and she says you see this? This is buffalo turd, and this? This is coyote poop, and this? This is donkey s***. So I grew up knowing my s***”), but he says, these two guys, Eddie and his friend, they never did write that book. And that story’s gone. Then he gets really philosophical and starts talking about telling your own story: “then it’s like an autobiography and you expound on certain things, and we don’t get an objective picture. I mean, who’s gonna talk bad about themselves?”

I see Rocky’s point here, but it took me back to my previous post and my concerns about having someone tell your story for you. I think that having several points of view is important in order to get a rounded view of a situation, also, one cannot take the opinions of outsiders to be hard, cold truth. In a sense, we need people to tell their own stories, or as Rocky put it, the story is gone when they die.

On a slightly different note, I wanted to talk about the people we pick to tell stories, especially in the theater. It is easy to make people who are less than stellar performers appear decent on screen, since there is so much new technology that allows one to edit and cut and insert film as needed. In theater, you need people with magic in their voices, people who are nothing short of captivating. Have you ever heard poetry being read, not by the overdramatic, sporadic ‘poets’ of today, but by someone with a deep, rich voice, with careful enunciation, someone like Maya Angelou?

Listen to this reading by Nobel Laureate Rita Dove http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCiinhPzxXc

Then to a reading by some of the self-proclaimed spoken word artists. There are a gifted few who are good at this, but many people who attempt this genre end up sounding more like today’s rap scene than anything else: an excess of rhyming words bundled together, and I know people are embracing new art forms, but I do believe that poetry requires much more careful composition and execution than the latter. Any sort of writing should strive to achieve more than just rhymes at the end of each line, or multiple rhymes in a sentence. I could say “bananas, havanas, cabanas” off the top of my head but that doesn’t mean anything unless I insinuate a meaning around it with careful diction.

It is my dream that we will tell our own stories and we will weave captivating, enlightening tales from them.

Stories…

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

In my first post, I talked a little about storytellers who tell stories that are not their own, but this is not the entire problem. There is also a problem with storytellers who do not share their own stories.

The average Ghanaian is a very private individual. We as a people tend not to share details of our private lives, in fact, avoid this as tenaciously as possible. People who can write also tend to keep their work to themselves and close friends/family, probably because of a fear of exposing inner thoughts and emotions to outsiders. We love to play the blame game and gossip about an ‘other’, the government, politics. There are those things that are ‘safe’ to talk about, the problems that everybody has, the ‘normal’ things, problems with ECG, NPP or NDC all the three letter acronyms we use in our everyday life. Also, the arts have never had the best reputation as a “serious” area according to most Ghanaian parents. The image of the starving artist has very much been propagated in Ghanaian society by the cautious parent who wants their ward to go into more “reputable” professions: medicine, law, accounting.

You cannot be a good writer without exposing yourself or your values; good writing requires vulnerability, and in my opinion, this is why most Ghanaian mainstream works are dry and generic. Ghanaian writers are not prepared to invest themselves in their books. This is also probably why there are more textbooks, guidebooks and how-to’s than there are actual novels. Even memoirs or biographies are very specific about what is in included in order to preserve as much of the person’s personal life as possible. I am not saying that one should divulge every itty bitty detail, but there is a need to invest some of one’s self into a work.

There is a separate issue with the film industry stealing the storylines of Western works or reproducing inane screenplays, and being over-celebrated for this, a la Shirley Frempong-Manso. Strides have been made in the Ghanaian industry with regards to picture quality and directing but stories remain fundamentally surface-level. We seem to have lost the depth and cultural values evident in much older movies, such as is evident in the work of Kwaw Ansah and older TV series (shows).  The movies being produced now, particularly the English-speaking ones, have a distinct lack of character, following after the international (Hollywood) scene’s gravitation towards stories that require minimal thought to process.

It is my dream that Ghanaian storytellers will begin to tell their own stories instead of copying the international trend.

Story Tellers…

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

The Danger Of A Single Story

I just ended my freshman year in college and am about to spend my summer working on designing costumes for an original play, which is sure to be a highly educative and rewarding experience, albeit slightly depressing, since after all, it is based on a Holocaust memoir. The thing about Holocaust memoirs is that, usually, everyone except the author dies. The plots are heartwrenchingly predictable; you know that this person’s friends and family are probably all going to die, the main variable is just the order in which this happens. Yet there is a burden placed on me, on us as a design team, to capture the story presented in as objective a light as possible, and present it through the lens of the woman who chose to share it. I feel strongly bound to this undertaking because I have a personal vendetta against the international media and their portrayals of my beloved continent, Africa, which has only grown stronger since I have attended school in the United States and come into contact with people from all over the world who have a very skewed and largely incorrect picture of the African continent. I myself have tried to educate the people I come into contact with, but it is a painstaking and often infuriating process. In my reading, I have come across stories told by non-Africans, and even foreign-born Africans, who have not done adequate research, and write pieces that build up the stereotypes surrounding the continent. This makes me mad, simply because it is not the whole picture. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses this in a speech she gives, titled “The Danger of A Single Story”. I am not saying that Africa has no problems. I am just saying that the international media should make more of an effort to portray Africa in its entirety.

It is my dream that African and international media will start to show the world how far the continent has come, instead of showcasing its problems.

[Link to Chimamanda Adichie’s speech on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg ]