Yet another Saturday night was spent at the theATAH this month. Only this time, I was attending the fancy premiere of "Sinking Sands" - the hottest new movie on the Ghanaian film scene. Please don't fact check that statement.
I found out about Sinking Sands from a billboard I happen to pass on my trotro ride to work. The film's professional-looking poster definitely stood out amidst the usual Ghanaian film posters that one finds crookedly shellacked against stone walls. I did a little google searching on the film and found out that Sinking Sands is the highest budget movie to have ever been produced in Ghana!
Interestingly enough, the producer/writer/director, Leila Djansi secured this $1 million (US) budget through fundraising and corporate sponsorship. Pretty darn impressive if you ask me... but not as impressive as the film itself! (hey-o! lazy segue...)
I have to admit, I had... expectations... walking into the theatre. I will not call them low expectations, because I have definitely enjoyed a few Ghanaian movies, particularly when they play on the STC buses on long journeys. However, the Ghanaian films I've seen follow in the tradition of "Nollywood" films (Nollywood is the booming film industry in Nigeria) which can sometimes be... well.. a bit silly. Oh... and loud. VERY VERY loud.
So, I walked into the National Theatre expecting to see a dramatic love story with the usual key ingredients: betrayal, cheating, shouting, some kind of witchcraft and a romantic scene where the two conflicting parties make up. However, I was shocked when I saw this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R56dsmLOFsc
Sinking Sands has definitely "pull[ed] some firsts for the industry" as claimed in the film's program, just one item in our press bag of goodies! The film was shot on Red Camera Technology, one of the highest quality video cameras available today, and according to the program, "the first feature film in some years to go back to using set design [in Ghana]." The film also cast an American actor, Jimmy Jean Louis, in one of the main roles. The crew itself was also a mix of Ghanaians and foreigners.
But it wasn't just the technology that appealed to me, the whole movie carried a Hollywood aesthetic - from the intimate performances by the actors, to the soundtrack, to the cinematography. It was really impressive! And this is not to say that Ghanaian films that aren't modelled on a more Western, Hollywood style aren't impressive. Rather, what I find impressive is that this director was able to go outside the norm of her native industry and adopt an artistic style that's pretty darn hard to pull off without prior training!
Here is a synopsis of Sinking Sands from the program:
"Jimah and Pabi are a match made in heaven until an accident leaves Jimah with a scar that alters his physical appearance and turns him into a monster - figuratively"
Pause... I like that they clarified that Jimah turns in a "figurative" monster. Continue...
"Endless days of wife battery become a part of their relationship. Pabi has a chance to flee but her guilt makes her stay, hoping and praying that Jimah will change and life will go back to normal. Her fear of living alone without a family is a weakness Jimah knows she has and he makes every effort to capitalize on it. But how long will Pabi endure? At what cost will she buy her freedom?"
The synopsis doesn't sell the movie very effectively. So again, I walked in with... expectations. However, the narrative unfolded really nicely, the acting was believable and honest, we could empathize with the characters (even the figurative monster) and well, most importantly, the movie kept your interest. You really couldn't tell what was going to happen next.
Another thing that Djansi should be proud of is that she addressed taboo issues head on and didn't censor anything. In fact, one of the strangest things I have ever experience in Ghana happened while I was watching Sinking Sands. At one point in the film, there is a brutal rape scene - it was quite graphic and realistic. The audience reaction? roaring laughter!! And believe me, this wasn't uncomfortable or nervous laughter. This was like knee-slapping, belly-aching laughter. Needless to say, the eight of us foreigners in the crowd looked at each other completely dumbstruck by what was going on... and eventually the laughter became contagious.
Seeking an explanation from a Ghanaian, I asked a coworker about the reaction of this rape scene. She said that the laughter was likely due to the fact that sex is not really something Ghanaians talk about openly, so when it appears on the big screen, in front of a crowd, people get very embarrassed.
Okay, so maybe it was nervous laughter. But it really didn't appear that way!
My coworker tried to explain it a little bit more. If any of these people were watching the movie alone, they wouldn't laugh at the rape scene. But once you add a few more people to the mix, people start to get self-conscious and embarrassed about the presence of sex on screen.
"That's kind of like the reaction I had when I watched a few episodes of Sex and the City with my father."
Thankfully, I kept this analogy in my head.
So, once again, Ghanaian audiences have added some spice to the experience of watching a film or a play. All in all, the movie was great - a huge leap for the Ghanaian Film Industry. Not sure when the film's set to hit theatres or DVD but if it comes out before I return to Canada, I'll be sure to grab a copy.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
My apologies for the blogging hiatus... I know my absence has thoroughly disappointed millions.
And November has been such an eventful month! So I will slowly catch everyone up on the action packed Accra adventures, or “accraventures” as I like to call them... or rather, as I will call them from this point on.
Alas, the accraventures have been carried out at an increasingly slower pace this month as the heat and the sun become much more intense. The HEAT - it’s all expats can talk about these days. I hardly have anything else to say to people other than “geeze, it’s getting a lot hotter these days, huh?” To which they eagerly agree and we then enter our awkward quest for something else to talk about. If the conversation turns to sports, I plan my escape route - “is that an injured goat I hear in the distance?” - Otherwise, I generally welcome any other topic quite happily.
Commentary about the heat is not limited to expats, though. Ghanaians share their two cents about the weather.
Example 1: “This African sun, it is too hot! How can we do anything? Ah!”
- My host mother on a scorcher of a day during a blackout.
Example 2: “It is raaiiiining today! Can you imagine what it will be like during the rainy season?!"
- My soaked coworker, upon entering the office during a rain storm that caused floods all over Accra.
So those may be the only two interesting comments that come to mind right now but I swear I hear more complaints! It’s the equivalent of hearing Canadians complain about the winter year after year after year as though every time November rolls around we’re surprised that fall still turns into winter. Every year. Leaves to snow... I don’t understand.
Okay, enough about the cold, I can delay having to think about it for another month. Back to our eventful November!
Well the most important event of November was of course, my birthday. Birthday celebrations were slightly muted by the impending deadlines for the funding proposals I was working on. However, I did manage to celebrate the occasion with a visit to the theatre... which I choose to pronounce “TheATAH” for no particular reason other than it simply feels right.
I was accompanied by two lovely gents - one Neil, from England, and one Hafen, from the US. We stopped briefly at Koala, one of the few grocery stores where westerns can pay insulting prices for their comfort foods. We dished out the equivalent of the mean household income of an American middle class family for a bag of Doritos and a can of Pringles. What a steal!
We hopped in a taxi and made our way to the National Theatre to watch the hit theatrical romantic comedy “Terms of Divorce” by renowned Ghanaian playwright James Ebo Whyte.
The house was packed! This was pretty shocking as the play wasn’t cheap... 25 Cedis a ticket. However, after having seen a few Ghanaian plays, I knew that the audience reactions alone are worth the price of admission. The best part about the audiences? No dirty looks whilst rustling our chip bags and crunching away on our snacks.
Terms of Divorce tells the story of Ralph and Ethel, a couple in the final stages of a messy divorce. At the opening of the play, we learn that Ralph and Ethel have been in a vicious tug-of-war over the divorce settlement for close to two years now. The process has been made that much more difficult because the couple have enlisted lawyers Michael and Baaba, who are themselves, bitter divorcees!
We quickly learn that a court date is soon approaching where Ralph and Ethel will be able to sign off a final agreement, once and for all - authorizing their divorce before a judge. But before they do this, they must visit some kind of marriage counsellor who will rubber stamp the agreement.
The counsellor is an older, cheerful man married to a mad woman whom he adores passionately. He warns Ralph, Ethel and their lawyers that his wife will frequently interrupt their proceedings with odd hallucinations. He tells them that his wife becomes very upset at the mere suggestion that she is mad, so if everyone could be so kind as to accommodate her hallucinations and play along with her madness, that would be greatly appreciated. So as the counseling proceeds, we are met with bizarre and often hilarious intervals where the counsellor’s cooky wife serves invisible tea and snacks or alerts everyone about murderers surrounding the house. In an effort to appease both the counsellor and his wife, the group plays along and drinks from their make believe tea cups and kills the murderers with their pretend guns.
The counsellor’s devotion and love for his wife, who proves to be quite a handful, eventually inspires Ralph to re-consider the divorce with Ethel. And after about 10 more argument scenes between the couple. they finally decide that they shouldn’t throw away their 20 year relationship over a couple of mishaps. I must say it was a bit of a shock to hear the couple had been married 20 years as the actors looked like they were in their early thirties... but who am I to deny two 12 year olds from making a lifelong commitment to each other?
Eventually, Baaba and Michael, follow suit, clarify the misunderstanding that let to their marriage’s dissolution and decide to re-marry.
The moral of the story: divorce is for quitters.
The play was definitely entertaining but went in some strange directions. For example, about two-thirds of the way through, the play suddenly turned into musical and introduced fantastical theatrical elements like smoke machines and angels (who doubled as backup dancers). Some of the numbers performed would be familiar to anyone who has seen a movie trailer for a romantic comedy in the last century like James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” or Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One I Want.” Just a WEEE bit cliché.
Another drawback, and a complaint I have about most Ghanaian theatre I’ve seen thus far, is the length of the play - nearly 3 hours. I mean, if I were watching a staged rendition of War and Peace translated into Twi, this length might be acceptable. But the play was marred with repetition and redundancies that lengthened scenes unnecessarily. The pace of the play also could have been tightened by eliminating actions and dialogue that detracted from the narrative train.
Other than these details, (oh, and the audio levels for the mics... let’s refrain from using max volume when your actors are screaming at each other for the majority of the play, thanks) I was quite pleased with the show! And as expected, the audience played their role just as well as the actors - contributing their “oh!”s and “ah!”s with conviction and enthusiasm. One moment in particular sparked roaring laughter and heckling from the audience. Ralph and Ethel, now googly-eyed and lusting after each other, are dressed in their “make-up sex” costumes - towels. They flirt with each other, indicating that they are ready for another round in the bedroom and eagerly ascend the stairs to their love chamber. Just as they reach the final step, Ralph’s towel falls off!! Fortunately for Ralph, he was wearing boxers under his towel. But believe me, the presence of underpants did not hinder the audience’s riotous reaction.
The best part about that moment? I GOT IT ON VIDEO!! Too bad the internet just ain't strong enough for me to upload it.
All in all, a great night at the theATAH topped off by pizza and wine at my favourite joint. Yay birthday in Ghana!
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The following article I wrote was published in CCI's November E-bulletin! You can go directly to the E-bulletin by following this link: http://bbnc.cciorg.ca/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=1189. Special thanks to Candice O'Grady from CCI for her editing wisdom.
Building critical mass: Empowering young women in Ghana to lead the women’s movement
Building critical mass: Empowering young women in Ghana to lead the women’s movement
It was my first week in Accra. I was just getting settled and didn’t know too many people (read: none). I thought it would be good idea to get out of the house for a night. Luckily, a popular bar and restaurant was located just down the street from my host family. I grabbed my book, sat at the bar and ordered my very first Ghanaian beer. No sooner did I open my book when a stylish young man in his mid-twenties (about my age) sat next to me, ordered a Heineken and initiated conversation.
We began with the usual formalities.
Where you from?
How long are you here?
Are you a student?
Do you like it here?
Are you married?
No..um... yes. Married yes.
Are you sure?
What is your name?
Gabrielle, what is your name?
No Steve. What kind of a name is Teve?
I was going to ask you the same thing.
After some friendly chatter, we got to discussing the purpose of my volunteer work in Ghana.
I told Steve (not Teve) that I was working for ABANTU for Development, a women’s rights non-profit dedicated to advancing gender equality in Africa. The organization focuses much of its efforts on influencing policy and building the capacity of women to become leaders and decision-makers at all levels of public life. My particular role at ABANTU is to assist in the development of their Young Women’s Mentorship Programme, which cultivates leadership skills in young women.
Crossroads has worked with ABANTU for several years now. Recent initiatives, focusing on young women’s empowerment have led the two organizations and Canadian partner YWCA Canada, to work together closely. The exchange of ideas and practices among the three organizations has fed richly into the mentorship programme.
Why young women’s empowerment? Why now? The program was launched three years ago with the recognition that long-term and lasting change depends on building confidence, skills, knowledge and capacities in young women. Since then its graduates have surpassed the organization’s expectations. Many participants entered the program as timid young women with little confidence and political knowledge. These same women are now amongst the first females to hold leadership positions in Ghana’s national student unions and other governing bodies in various universities and trade schools.
“We think that incorporating the vigor and enthusiasm of young people will be good for the women’s movement in Ghana,” explained Hamidah Harrison, Programme Manager at ABANTU for Development’s West-African Regional Office. Harrison added that aside from developing a pool of young women with the skills to be leaders in their communities, the mentorship programme also aims to address the apathetic political attitude she sees in young Ghanaians today.
“We hope that we can excite these young people, introduce them to the processes of governance whereby their capacities will be built,” she said.
This isn’t what I told Steve, though. I gave him the abridged version of my volunteer mission, highlighting ABANTU’s mandate to increase women’s participation in governance and political life.
“Oh! Women do not belong in politics!” Steve interjected with a laugh, shaking his head before taking a sip from his beer.
For the feminist in me, Steve’s comment was like the ringing bell one hears at the start of a boxing match.
“Ding!” Alright dukes up, Steve! I’ve got four years of Women’s Studies parlance to unleash on you!
The cautious foreigner in me, however, chose to exercise a little tact. So I laughed along with Steve and through a smile asked:
“What?! Why do women not belong in politics?” Hold your smile Gabrielle.
I was met with the expected remarks - women are too emotional and unstable for the politics. They can’t think beyond their own needs or the needs of other women. They aren’t natural leaders. They can’t make decisions etc. etc.
Despite the popular travel advice to avoid discussions on politics or religion, I challenged Steve on his patriarchal views. Luckily, he accepted and enjoyed the challenge and the conversation was quite engaging. The gloves never did come off, so to speak.
I realize now that when I left the bar that night, I really should have thanked Steve. I couldn’t have asked for a better affirmation of the relevancy of both my volunteer mandate and the organization I was to be working with for five months.
I have to admit, I wasn’t so much surprised by Steve’s opinion but at how comfortable he was expressing it. Many Canadians still cling desperately to patriarchal views but good luck trying to get any of them to admit it! “Politically incorrect” views are hard to tease out of Canadians. However, I wasn’t in Canada anymore and it was high time I started learning about what women’s rights looked like on the ground in Ghana.
Fifteen years have passed since Ghana joined the world in accepting the United Nations’ forward-looking action plan on women’s rights, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in 1995. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action sought to accelerate equality across the globe. However, gender activists in Ghana remain deeply unimpressed. Women in the country occupy a paltry 8.6 per cent of Parliamentary seats — a far reach from the 30 per cent target set at Beijing, and quite a distance from the 18.4 per cent African average.
Fortunately, this disheartening progress has failed to curb the dedication and passion exhibited by Ghana’s women’s movement. To the contrary, the past 15 years have seen the rapid development of an unforgiving, sophisticated and highly visible national campaign for gender equality.
Though their optimism is unyielding, advocates remain realistic about the progress they expect to see in the near future. Meeting the Beijing targets will not only require policy reforms and strong political will, but also a national shift in mindset, away from the patriarchal status quo that excludes women from public life.
The realization of this grander mission will not take place in a mere finger snap, or in a conversation over beers at the local bar. Progress will only reveal itself over the course of generations. However, the time to invest in the young women who will lead this ideological rewriting is now. And no one realizes this more than ABANTU.
“We will no longer have the excuse from male-dominated governments that Ghana can’t find the women,” said Harrison, addressing the often-cited excuse that there aren’t women capable or willing to vie for leadership positions.
“They will be there in critical mass.”
Sorry Steve, but it looks like women aren’t exiting the ring any time soon.
|Where's Waldo? You can find Obroni hidden in the back row on the right.|