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Pushing boundaries in Ghanaian cinematic storytelling

Updated: Apr 17

Two filmmakers, who are creating narratives that centre Ghanaians, are pushing boundaries in film production.

L-R PAFF host Laurine, Anniwaa Buachie and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
L-R PAFF host Laurine Mukoko-Kunda, Anniwaa Buachie and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

Anniwaa Buachie is the British-Ghanaian producer, co-director and actress behind the film short ‘Moon Over Aburi’, and Kobina de Graft-Johnson is the Ghanaian-American cinematographer and producer of film short ‘Barely Made’.


Speaking at The London Pan-African Film Festival's (PAFF) Monthly Screenings at the West Norwood Picturehouse in south London in February, both filmmakers highlighted the need for higher quality filmmaking, and a greater focus on storytelling that centres Black and female narratives.


“There are rich stories from the Continent of Africa,” said Anniwaa, who co-directed ‘Moon Over Aburi’ with Sheila Nortley. “When I said I was making a film in Ghana, some people completely dismissed it.



“I think we need to get into the mindset that just because something isn’t Western doesn’t mean it is necessarily automatically bad.”


Inspired by literature

‘Moon Over Aburi’ follows the story of a woman and man and their connection to a gruesome murder.


This crime story, which explores a woman’s place in a corrupt lawless society, was originally written by Emmy award-winning writer Dr Kwame Dawes.


It was Anniwaa who decided this story needed to be turned into a film after providing the audio narration for an anthology called ‘Accra Noir’ that included the story.


Anniwaa Buachie © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
Anniwaa Buachie © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

“I read ‘Moon Over Aburi’ and I literally got chills,” she told the audience at the Picturehouse. “I did the recording but kept on thinking about the story and the way it was written.


“So, I got in touch with Kwame Dawes, who is the writer, and basically said that I thought it had been written for screen and if he agreed, I would like to turn it into the film and play the lead.


“I said that if he didn’t like how I’d read his story, I would still like to make the film because I think it is an amazing story.”


L-R PAFF host Laurine Mukoko-Kunda, Anniwaa Buachie and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
L-R PAFF host Laurine Mukoko-Kunda, Anniwaa Buachie and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

The rest, as they say is history, because ‘Moon Over Aburi’ is the first in a series of short films based around crime plots in and around Accra that Anniwaa plans to create with the right industry support and funding.


Gripping cinematography

If you haven’t watched ‘Moon Over Aburi’, please do. The story is simple and yet very gripping with a powerful twist. The production had a ‘film noire’ quality and cinematography reminded me of Pascal Aka’s ‘The Goldcoast Lounge’.


Anniwaa’s film provides a refreshing spin on an often pigeon-holed view of female characters. In ‘Moon Over Aburi’ the female character takes the law into her own hands to save a young girl from sexual assault but still manages to retain her appeal as both a strong and likeable character.


Members of the audience at the PAFF. Image courtesy of Timothy Aryee
Members of the audience at the PAFF. Image courtesy of Timothy Aryee

“When I read the book what struck me was that the female character was so matter of fact [about what she had done]. She was not apologetic and she was sane of mind,” she says. “I think very often, when you see a female role like that, the assumption is that she has lost her mind.


“So, when you pitch female roles like that to producers, they want the audience to like them so the characters can’t be too hard. What I wanted to convey was that the woman was not apologetic for what she’d done because I wanted to make it clear that the little girl’s life mattered just as much as any other man.”


Quality film production

Annniwaa is clear that her intention was to produce a high-quality piece of cinematography that centres Ghanaian stories and proves that both can achieved with an all-Ghanaian cast and production team.


Speaking about the proliferation of non-Ghanaian films and TV shows currently consumed in Ghana, she said: “There’s no reference to show an elevated quality that relates to their life and what they live,” she said. “But there is a new wave of filmmakers in Ghana that are talented, and I know that it is changing.”


Embrace the business and the creativity

Kobina agrees. Having been in the industry for close to a decade and having an accounting background helps.


He believes that change has to come with filmmakers embracing not just the creative side of their craft but also the business. "When you learn the business of film you can do any show," he said.


Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

Female characters

What was pleasing to see, for me, was that the rolling credits in both 'Moon Over Aburi' and ‘Barely Made’ were dominated by Ghanaian names and both films centre the experiences of Ghanaians, primarily the voices of women.


Abena Mensah-Bonsu, a plus-size actress, who starred in the US theatre performance ‘School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls’ is the lead character in Kobina’s film ‘Barely Made’.


Watch the trailer to 'Barely Made'


Directed by Eric Dickens Jr and Shantelle Duah under Kobina's production company Anibok Studios, the film opens with first-generation Ghanaian Adwoa contemplating her future after being fired from her corporate job in New York City.


When we meet her in the film, she is about to be sacked from her job and we follow her journey on working to reconfigure her life plans moving forward.


Being able to create a film that centres actors that are typically marginalised was important to Kobina.


Audience members applaud after watching 'Barely Made' and 'Moon Over Aburi' © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
Audience members applaud after watching 'Barely Made' and 'Moon Over Aburi' © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

“I started to hear words like representation," said Kobina, who is originally from Tema. "I didn’t really understand what that meant until I understood that people wanted to watch stories with people that looked like them. I just didn’t find those stories. So, I wrote the story [Barely Made].”


“The story [in ‘Barely Made’] mirrors mine - a little bit. I was also let go from my job and that really pushed me into a space where I was making film.


‘Barely Made’ also gave Kobina a chance to platform other Ghanaian creatives in music and art. If you look closely, you'll even see a painting that he created featured in one of the scenes.

KAmo, Abena Serwaa and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios
KAmo, Abena Serwaa and Kobina de Graft-Johnson © Jean Landré Arts Photography/ Anibok Studios

“Wherever Ghanaians live, there is always going to be a Ghanaian story,” he said. “Our stories don’t necessarily have to come from Ghana. They can come from anywhere. We just need to tell our stories as it is happening now from our point of view.”


International reactions to the films

The reception from international audiences to both films has been positive.

“They love it in Ghana," said Kobina. "People told me they related to that story. For the Ghanaians living in the diaspora, some said it reminded them of ‘Insecure’ [by Issa Rae]”.


And for Anniwaa, the reception has been similar. “When ‘Moon Over Aburi’ was shown in American film festivals, Americans just loved it straight away. So did Germany, South Africa and Ghana," she said.


However, there are still some markets where perceptions of what an African story should be prevails, she said.


Watch the trailer to 'Moon Over Aburi'



“When it comes to Black characters, especially with ‘Moon Over Aburi’, there is no one that’s ‘down and out’ and there’s no one that is trying to make it after coming from a war-torn African country.


“I think that some markets gravitate towards those types of narratives - but things are changing slowly but surely. I would say that in the States, there is more of an appreciation for other narratives.”


The hope is that where Ghanaian films and webseries like ‘An African City’ and filmmakers such as Shirley Frimpong-Manso have laid the foundations for new genres in Ghanaian filmmaking, Anniwaa and Kobina’s contributions can continue to push boundaries.


Both filmmakers are working to secure film distribution platforms to reach wider audiences with Kobina telling AKADi Magazine that there are plans to make 'Barely Made' available on YouTube from August.


For future screenings and updates, follow @anibokstudios and @anniwaabuachie on social media.

 

The London PAFF Monthly Screening continues to screen African films next month. Visit the Picturehouse website here to learn more.


Keep reading more articles like this here.


The contents of this page were written for AKADi Magazine and cannot be reproduced without permission.

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