Archive for film

Cantata

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

Main Entry: can·ta·ta

Pronunciation: \kən-ˈtä-tə\

Function: noun

Etymology: Italian, from cantare to sing, from Latin

Date: 1724

: a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment

According to an article by John Collins in the African Quarterly on the Arts (Vol. 4), “Ghanaian concert party artists are professional groups of itinerant artists who stage vernacular shows for the rural and urban audiences that combine slapstick musical comedies, folk stories, acrobatics, moral sermons, magical displays, and dance-music sessions”.  Everybody knows Concert Party, whether sitting in a live audience at the National Theater or watching on GTV at home, or at least they used to. One hears less and less about this amazing, Ghanaianized art form and more and more about Western-style reality TV shows and singing competitions.

Although the art of the concert party started out as heavily influenced by the West in the early 1900’s, it became a unique part of Ghana’s culture and spread influences over neighboring Togo and other parts of West Africa. I am glad that playwrights such as Ebo Whyte have started to put Ghanaian stories on the Ghanaian stage, and I was happy that the University of Ghana, Legon managed to stage, from what I hear, a decent musical (Beauty and the Beast), but I would much like for our more unique and/or traditional methods of theater to get more attention, first on our own stages, and subsequently, hopefully, on other stages around the world.

There are several benefits in this. A uniquely Ghanaian, cultural entertainment industry would serve to interest and retain regular visitors to the country and could even serve as it’s own tourist attraction. People travel to engage themselves in foreign culture and if one provides a culture-rich scene instead of a pathetic mimicry of whatever they have back home, they are more likely to return in a hurry.

It also helps to reinforce a sense of national identity and national pride because it demonstrates very literally that Ghanaians have stories worth telling, even ordinary Ghanaians, and draws away from the wildly unrealistic drama that goes on in many of our films and towards the wildly realistic drama that most Ghanaians experience on a day-to-day basis as they go about their normal lives.

I realized just how dramatic Ghanaians, indeed Africans are when I came to the United States for school. We are a pretty loud bunch, very spontaneous and can amuse ourselves with hours of animated conversation about anything and everything. Older comedies such as The Blinkards and The Marriage of Anansewaa capture this energy, but I would very much like to see more of it captured rightly in the performing arts and in film. I believe in this respect that films produced wholly in local dialects (Twi, Fanti etc.) manage to capture the complexity in our speech and relationships better than films made in English.

John Collins does an excellent job of describing the Concert Party movement at its prime, and you can read his work at the links below:

The Ghanaian Concert Party, African Popular entertainment at a Crossroads, John Collins, Thesis submitted to Graduate School of the State University of New York at Buffalo in partial fulfillment of requirements for a Philosophy Doctrate

http://www.bapmaf.com/books/JC%201994%20Ph.D%20African%20Popular%20Entertainment%20at%20the%20Crossroads%20A_%20chpts%201-15.pdf

The Ghanaian Concert Party, John Collins for the African Quarterly on Arts Volume 4

http://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/African%20Journals/pdfs/glendora%20review/vol1no4/graa001004022.pdf

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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.