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Cinema in Ghana began when early film making was first introduced to the British colony of Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1923. At the time only affluent people could see the films, especially the colonial master of Gold Coast. In the 1950s, film making in Ghana began to increase. Cinemas were the primary venue for watching films until home video became more popular.[sources 1]
Cinema in the colonial period
In the early 1920s, individuals in the private sector brought film to Ghana (then Gold Coast) by opening cinemas in urban areas. By 1923, cinema has become a new form of entertainment, and only the affluent could see the films that were exhibited at the cinemas. Cinemas were for the first class society, that is the colonial leaders and their top officials. Later on cinema vans were used in rural areas.
In the 1948, when the colonial masters discovered that film, besides its entertainment values, could be used to brainwash and transform society in the direction of the filmmaker, decided to establish the Gold Coast Film Unit at the Information Services Department of the colonial government. Film became another system, considered to be scientifically appropriate, to influence society. The Gold Coast Film Unit used green-yellow Bedford buses to screen documentary films, newsreels and government information films to the public. Attendance was free. (Sakyi 1996: 9). The films included propaganda films about World War II, which were produced by the Colonial Film Unit (CFU) in London. (cf. Diawara 1992: 3).
After the war, the unit produced educational films and feature films for their African colonies. The films were designed to contrast the Western "civilised" way of life with the African "backward" way of life. They suggested "superstitious" customs should be ceased. (Diawara 1992: 3; Ukadike 1994: 44ff).
The Gold Coast Film Unit, also produced films with local interest to encourage improvements in health, crops, living, marketing and human co-operation. (Middleton–Mends 1995: 1; Diawara 1992: 5). In 1948, the Gold Coast Film Unit began to train local African film makers. Films were exchanged with other British colonies in Africa. (Middleton-Mends ibid.)
Gollywood: Contemporary Ghana cinema
The new cinema industry in Ghana, also known as Gollywood, started in the early part of the 1980s. Before Gollywood, the government of Ghana, who inherited the film industry from the colonial government, was the only producer of films in the country. The first president of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in 1964 established the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) at Kanda, in Accra, which would become the country's capital in 1977. GFIC now houses TV3, a private Malaysian TV station. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the President of the first Republic of Ghana, sent a lot of Ghanaians abroad to learn filmmaking purposely for the running of the GFIC. Ghana had professionally trained filmmakers who were employed by the government to produce films for the socioeconomic development of the country. Legends such as Rev. Chris Essie, Mr. Ernest Abbeyquaye, Mr. Kwaw Ansah and many others were all trained by the government, under the leadership of President Nkrumah. GFIC was established to use indigenous Ghanaian made films to reverse the negative impact of the films made by the colonial government and to restore the pride of being a Ghanaian and an African in the citizens. The Ghana Film Industry Corporation was making films to serve the purpose of building self-reliance in the African people. More than 150 feature and documentary films were produced by the GFIC by the late 1960s. After the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, the film industry in Ghana had a nose down.
In 1981, the first independent film, Love Brewed in the African Pot, was produced by Kwaw Ansah, one of the legendary filmmakers in Ghana. The film was shot on celluloid film. After that, King Ampaw, a Ghanaian filmmaker trained in German also followed suit with the release of his film Kukurantumi - The Road to Accra in 1982. By the middle of the 1980s, the new generation in Ghana, led by William Akuffo, decided to adapt the new video technology that was introduced to the world in 1978, for the production of films. The Video Home System (VHS) cameras were used to shoot feature-length films from 1986 in Ghana. The idea was to tell the Ghanaian and African narrative by the African. Ghana was the first country in the world to use VHS cameras to shoot feature-length films. By the end of the 1980s, Ghana could boast of a number of films produced in Ghana on VHS tapes cassettes.
Since the late 1980s, the making of direct-to-video films has increased in Ghana. Funds for cinematography were hard to come by for both the state owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) and for independent film makers. Therefore, people in Ghana began to make their own films using VHS video cameras. The independent filmmakers created their own Ghanaian stories and scripts of the films, assembled actors, both professionals and amateurs and made successful films especially in Accra. Income from these VHS video movies helped to support the film industry. In the 1980s, when the filmmakers started making the video-films, GFIC rose bitterly against it. The authorities of the GFIC did not see the future of video technology becoming part of the global format of filmmaking so they practically rose against it and made it difficult for the independent producers in Ghana at the time. GFIC prohibited their film directors to assist the independent producer in making the video-films. The consequence of this decision of GFIC caused the country to lose professionalism in the art of filmmaking in Ghana. The producers were forced to start directing their own video-films. This culture of produce and direct without any professional training on filmmaking would become the controllable culture in the next three decades.
After some years, GFIC started to offer technical support to the VHS filmmakers in exchange for the right to first screening in its Accra cinemas. Their films had become very popular since the Ghanaians were seeing true narratives of who they were through these films made by indigenous Ghanaian filmmakers. By the early 1990s, approximately fifty VHS video movies per year were made in Ghana. Over time, professional and amateur filmmakers in Ghana produced films of similar quality and garnered equal respect.
In 1996, the government of Ghana sold seventy percent of the equity in the GFIC to the Malaysian television production company, Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad of Kuala Lumpur. The GFIC was renamed "Gama Media System Ltd". This also affected the rising film industry in the country very badly. GFIC was incharge of about half the cinema-theatres in the country at the time. The sales of the 70% of GFIC collapsed the cinema industry. The company had little interest in film making and so the film industry in Ghana continued with independent film makers whose funding relied on the popular appeal of the films. For example, in Ghanaian cinema, there is a popular theme of darkness and occultism placed in a framework of Christian dualism involving God and the Devil (see Meyer 1999a).
Twi dialect movies are known as "Kumawood" films. English-speaking Ghanaian films are sometimes known as "Ghallywood" productions. And all the films made in Ghana are called Gollywood films.[sources 2] Films depicting African witchcraft are popular in Ghana, despite criticism being directed towards them.[sources 3] Ghana produces low-budget visual effects films. These include 2016 (2010), and Obonsam Besu (The Devil Will Cry).
In about 1997, Ghanaians and Nigerians started making collaboration films that introduced Nigerian film directors such as Ifeanyi Onyeabor (a.k.a. Big Slim), Rev. Tony Meribe-White and later around 2006, the Nigerian filmmaker Frank Rajah Arase who was brought in by Ifeanyi Onyeabor as his personal or production assistant. He also grew to become a movie director and collaborated with Venus Films, a Ghanaian production company, to produce a number of films that brought out Ghanaian popular actors who could access work in Nigeria (Nollywood). Some of the actors included Van Vicker, Jackie Appiah, Majid Michel, Yvonne Nelson, John Dumelo, Nadia Buari and Yvonne Okoro. Some Nigerian producers have filmed in Ghana where production costs are lower.
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