Category Archives: Uncategorized

Restored and Resurrected: Director’s Cut of GANJA & HESS at IU Cinema 8/29

“I’ve liked every script I’ve ever written, I’ve hated every movie made from them.” – Bill Gunn

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Bill Gunn (1929-1989) never liked what happened to his scripts in the hands of another director. In 1969, Norman Jewison needed a writer for his new project The Landlord, an adaptation of Kristen Hunter’s novel of the same name. Love Story author Erich Segal, at the time a professor of Greek literature at Yale, had written a draft, but Jewison deemed it “not ethnic enough” for a film that Jewison was promoting to Variety as “the first all-negro comedy.”[1] Bill Gunn had just finished the script for The Angel Levine (Jan Kadar, 1970), which was going into production for Belafonte Enterprises, and Harry Belafonte’s producing partner Chiz Schultz recommended Gunn to his friend Norm. Gunn revamped The Landlord, giving the content a more political edge and adding brilliant dialog that struck a nerve. In one of the film’s most poignant final moments, Diana Sands’ character Fanny asks Beau Bridges’ Elgar to put their love child up for adoption, declaring him as white. When Elgar asks why, Fanny replies with a line that’s utterly heartbreaking in its simplicity and truth: “Because I want him to grow up like you. Casual.”

Gunn spent a good deal of time on set with first time director Hal Ashby, who Jewison had turned the film over to at the last minute, but expressed frustration with the final work. Determined to direct his own scripts with complete creative control, he took his experience on set along with actress Marlene Clark (a nightclub dancer in The Landlord) to Nyack, NY and began working on a film that would truly defy generic categorization, Ganja and Hess.

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Gunn had previously written and directed Stop in 1970 for Warner Brothers, making him the second African American director hired for a major studio project. Yet, the studio refused to release the film, which received an X rating from the MPAA and remains rarely seen. Despite these setbacks (including the lackluster BO performances of The Landlord and Angel Levine), Gunn remained faithful to his artistic vision, following with his most ambitious work to date– a spiritual mediation on Black ritual and desire in the guise of a vampire film. Ganja and Hess premiered in 1973 at Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim, but its U.S. producers Kelly-Jordan Enterprises missed the appeal of Gunn’s experimental exploration. Cutting almost 40 minutes from Gunn’s film, the completely re-edited version was promoted as a Blaxploitation horror film, which had become all the rage following the box office success of Blacula (1972). Additional versions of the film were later released under alternate titles, including Double Possession and Blood Couple. Yet, the original print remained at the Museum of Modern art, becoming one of its most popular rentals and earning the status of cult classic.

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Given Gunn’s dissatisfaction with other director’s interpretations of his scripts, one wonders how he would feel about Spike Lee’s Ganja and Hess adaptationDa Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014).

 

The restored director’s cut of Ganja and Hess will screen on 35mm on Friday, August 29 a the Indiana University Cinema. Print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

[1] Variety, April 10, 1969. See also Chris Sieving’s chapter on The Landlord, ” Hollywood meets New Hollywood” in his book, Soul Searching: Black-Themed Cinema from the March on Washington to the Rise of Blaxploitation (Wesleyan, 2011).

For More on Gunn & Ganja and Hess:

Manthia Diawara and Phyllis Klotman’s essential Jump Cut essay, “Ganja and Hess: Vampires, Sex, and Addiction”

Shadow and Act piece on the (possible) DVD release of Bill Gunn’s Stop

“Lone Wolf in Black America: A Bill Gunn Retrospective” from Moving Image Arts Film Journal

And a great feature on the house rented by Bill Gunn and creative partner & composer Sam Waymon (brother of Nina Simone!) during the production of Ganja & Hess: “Sam Waymon Lived Here”


Rachel Boynton’s BIG MEN premieres on PBS POV on Monday, Aug. 25

“If you want to know how the world works, as opposed to how we are told it works – or how we wish it might work – you need to see ‘Big Men,’ a remarkable new investigative documentary about oil, money, Africa and America that comes with Brad Pitt’s name attached as executive producer but was directed by Rachel Boynton.”      - Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

 

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In 2007, American oil company Kosmos Energy discovered the first oil in the history of the West African Republic of Ghana. Award winning documentary filmmaker Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis, 2006) gained unprecedented access to the company and the cooperation of its leading executives. At the same time, Boynton researched and filmed for over seven years in Nigeria and Ghana,  with admittance into two Ghanian administrations, and into the camp of one of the region’s key militant groups, The Deadly Underdogs. Big Men follows the extraordinarily complex relations between these groups, providing a rare peek into the fascinating and deeply unsettling dealings of the oil business and its effects on the African region from the initial striking of “first oil.”  In his laudatory review, Scott Foundas of Variety describes the film as a “real life Chinatown” or There Will be Blood.

Backed by a team of renowned executive producers, including Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner of Plan B Entertainment,  Boynton’s independently produced and directed investigative work screened to great acclaim at the 2013 Tribeca film festival and will premiere on PBS as part of its POV series on Monday, August 25th (check local listings on the POV website, here).

 

Check out MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” interview with Rachel Boynton here.

Additional Media & Publicity:

BIG MEN official website

Hollywood Reporter Interview with Rachel Boynton and Brad Pitt

NY Times Critic’s Pick: Jeannette Catsoulis’ Review, “Oil, Money, and Where it Flows”

Indiewire

 

- Noelle Griffis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cinema Journal’s “In Focus: African American Caucus” asks: What is “Black Film”?

53-4coverStuart Hall’s 1992 essay “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” raised a fundamental question that continues to spark debate over 20 years later. The provocation lies at the heart of a series of essays that appear in the Summer 2014 edition of Cinema Journal , featured in the special section “In Focus: African American Caucus.” Members of the caucus, including Indiana University Professor Terri Francis, investigate the relationship between identity politics and media scholarship. The six contributing scholars and filmmakers—Anna Everett, Mark D. Cunningham, Allyson Nadia Field, Nina Cartier, Zeinabu irene Davis, and Francis—consider film-making, pedagogy, and scholarship in relation to individual and often intensely personal interpretations of the meaning of the “Black” in Black film and media.

Despite the diverse perspectives offered (which are not always in agreement), a consensus emerges regarding the need to recognize rigorous media scholarship and experience as not only compatible, but essential to the study of Black popular culture (126). In “Who’s ‘We,’ White Man?” Scholarship, Teaching and Identity Politics in African American Media Studies,” Allyson Nadia Field writes, “While attentive to questions of identity politics, privilege, subject position, and representation, these concerns should not obfuscate other approaches, such as formal analysis, historical contextualization, and industrial situation” (136). Terri Francis takes this notion a step further in her essay, “Whose ‘Black Film’ Is This? The Pragmatics and Pathos of Black Film Scholarship,” explaining that the conventional methodological approaches cannot simply be mapped on to Black film; instead, considering Black film in relation to concepts of genre, industry economics, narrative, and style, should productively disrupt and challenge cinema studies frameworks because Black film-making “bends and resists these very categories” (147). Both Field and Francis are centrally concerned with avoiding the pitfalls of teaching Black film—either as a marginalized week on racial representation, or as a discrete category of film-making (i.e. the films by Black filmmakers approach) that falls short of dealing with the position of Black media in relation to the industry at large.

Other highlights include Anna Everett’s consideration of the role that digital technologies have played in the establishment of the first Black American media moguls, following the lead of Oprah.com in 1998. Everett has a decidedly positive view of participatory media culture, offering Issa Rae’s success with the web series, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, as evidence that social media outlets such as YouTube may open the door for a new wave of Black media innovators. Independent filmmaker and University of California, San Diego Professor Zeinabu irene Davis provides an artist’s perspective on the need for the recognition of “Black film” as a distinct category. As a member of the L.A. Rebellion—the first group of African American filmmakers to graduate from UCLA’s film school—Davis states candidly that she sees it as her responsibility to create films featuring Black subjects for a Black audience, due to the failure of most mainstream media to provide a range of identifiable representations.

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Samuel L. Jackson appears on the cover of the CJ issue as “Senor Love Daddy,” whose direct address confronts the reader as it did the viewer in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Through this icon of Black popular culture, series editors Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, Racquel Gates, and Miriam J. Petty recall the significance of the “roll call,” as performed by Love Daddy in the film, within Black culture: “Naming oneself, naming pioneers, naming the dead and the living, provides a way to establish a sense of lineage and communal bonds” (123). Noting that the roll call has roots in African American tradition, the authors explain that in African American culture, it has also served as a way of making a space for oneself at the exclusionary table of American society. While the “In Focus” section features complex debates surrounding the very meaning of “Black” and the responsibilities of all media scholars to teach Black cinema without marginalizing it as a side note in film history, the invocation of the roll call serves as a reminder that the recognition and celebration of Black films and filmmakers always provides an excellent starting place. As Francis states so eloquently at the conclusion of her essay: “In the end, simply introducing students to Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and outstanding works like Chameleon Street (Wendell B. Harris, Jr., 1989) and Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) generates new, enthusiastic, and better-informed audiences—you can’t unsee those films” (150).

~Noelle Griffis


Celebrating the Lives of Greenlee and Jeffries

Two influential African American men in the film industry passed away recently, leaving their mark on the film industry and inspiring all who have had the opportunity to witness their work. Although popular from different decades — Sam Greenlee was famous in the 1970s and Herbert Jeffries in the 1930s and 1940s —  Greenlee and Herbert were able to leave their mark on Black cinema.

Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr.

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Best known for the controversial 1973 film, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, poet, film-maker, playwright, author, and social activist Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr. passed away in Chicago on May 19th at the age of 83. The film, about a militant Black ex-C.I.A agent, Dan Freeman, who leads a Black power movement, was based on his novel of the same name that was released in 1969. Greenlee co-wrote the screenplay with director, actor, and producer Ivan Dixon. An article in the New York Times stated:

 The film, with the same title as the novel, achieved cult status as one of the few to portray the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s from a militant’s point of view. Mr. Greenlee helped write the script, which, like the novel, drew on his experiences working abroad as a State Department employee.

Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s independent 2011 documentary about the making of the critical film, titled Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, examined why United Artists pulled the film shortly after being released at theaters across the country. The documentary highlights how the film was one of the most important underground Black productions of the Blaxploitation era, with its oppositional narrative and representation of Blacks who are ready to fight for their freedom and their beliefs.

The film has been screened at Indiana University and Greenlee has visited the IU campus and the Black Film Center/Archive on different occasions as well. The film was screened in March 2010 as a part of a two-day spring symposium, hosted by the BFC/A, that was devoted to the study of “Cinematic Representations of Racial Conflict in Real Time.” In a press release about the symposium from March 18, 2010, BFC/A Director Michael Martin stated, “‘The Spook Who Sat by the Door’ addresses the plight and potential revolutionary role of the black underclass in urban America.”

Greenlee visited on March 22, 2011 to screen his film The Spook Who Sat by the Door at  IU and stopped in for an interview with Michael Martin and David Wall. Greenlee spoke about how his experiences as a former employee of the United States Information Agency and growing up in the ghetto of Chicago influenced who the primary target audience of his novel and film would be. Speaking about Greenlee’s visit and the film’s controversial release, an excerpt from the May 2011 Black Film Center/Archive publication “The (W)rap Sheet” stated:

Though many critics peg Greenlee’s film to be about a war against whites, Greenlee describes the film as a war of liberation of the poor of America, which goes beyond the issues of race. While the class-war film was consistently pulled from theatres across the United States because of the feared (a) revolutionary protest, Greenlee, along with a large audience, was able to view the film at IU Cinema.

Greenlee will be remembered for his ability and courage to highlight racial issues in his work that are familiar to Black Americans — such as the “Token Negro,” racial oppression, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of “double-consciousness” — and span across all generations and time periods.

 

Herbert “Herb” Jeffries

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Known as Hollywood’s “only Black singing cowboy,” Hebert “Herb” Jeffries passed away due to heart failure at the age of 100 in Los Angeles at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, reported OurWeekly, a local online Los Angeles newspaper. Born in Detroit on September 24, 1911, Jeffries, often referred to as the “The Bronze Buckaroo,” was a famous jazz singer and actor who performed with Duke Ellington and was featured in a series of all-Black Westerns for Black audiences from 1937 to 1939: “Harlem on the Prairie,” “Two-Gun Man From Harlem,” “The Bronze Buckaroo,” and “Harlem Rides the Range.” In 1997, Jeffries shared with American Visions, a publication on African-American culture, that he wanted to make the Black cowboy movies after seeing a young Black boy cry after his friends wouldn’t allow him to play cowboy, when in reality one out of every four cowboys was Black. However, there were barriers in the film industry at that time based on race. Speaking about some of the racial barriers in the film industry and the tendency for white singers to cover songs first scored by Blacks, an NPR article stated:

With a mellow voice and handsome face, Jeffries became familiar to jazz fans, but segregation in the film industry limited his movie career. He scored a big hit with Ellington as the vocalist on “Flamingo,” recorded in 1940 and later covered by a white singer, the popular vocalist Tony Martin.

An article on the website Mixed Races Studies, on the history of Jeffries’ career, noted how his fair skin tone (as his parents were of mixed races) could “pass” for several different ethnicities and/or nationalities as he was often mistaken for a Spaniard, an Italian, a Mexican, a Portuguese, an Argentine, and occasionally a Jew. The article continued stating, “He has scrupulously elected to pass for nothing but what he is—a light-skinned Negro.” Further in the article, they share Jeffries’ reasons and response for not attempting to pass for other races, after a movie producer asked why he wouldn’t want to pass if he had the ability to be anything:

“I have been. I’m a chameleon. But I decided some time ago that the Negro people need all the good, intelligent, unbelligerent representatives they can get in this world, and I’m trying to be one. If I thought the Jewish people needed it more, I’d be a Jew.’ That’s what I told him, and that’s how I feel.”

Although Jeffries had to face racial limits during his career, for instance performing in the South with Earl Hines for segregated audiences in the 1930s, he still managed to find a place in Hollywood. Recently, he was honored by having a star dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. Following that honor in 2006, “The Bronze Buckaroo” was rereleased on a revived DVD titled “Treasures of Black Cinema” and was hosted by Richard Roundtree along with other “race films” produced for Black audiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

Both Jeffries and Greenlee will be remembered as their work continues to circulate and spark discussions in later generations.

~Katrina Overby

Resources:

http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/13812.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/books/sam-greenlee-author-producer-and-ex-government-agent-dies-at-83.html

http://ourweekly.com/news/2014/may/29/herbert-jeffries-hollywoods-only-black-singing-cow/#.U43oVShENpQ

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=316124797

http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?tag=herbert-i-jeffries

 


Job Posting: Archivist, IU Black Film Center/Archive

11247 – Archivist, Communication and Culture (Black Film Center/Archive), Indiana University – Bloomington

The Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive (BFCA) in Bloomington, IN, seeks qualified candidates for the position of Archivist.

Reporting to the Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services, the Archivist will process and provide intellectual access to the archival and manuscript collections of the Black Film Center/Archive. The principal responsibilities of the Archivist will be to arrange and describe archival and manuscript collections in all formats; prepare and encode finding aids and other descriptive access tools; provide research and reference assistance; participate in outreach activities; prepare materials for preservation and digitization; and participate in the training and supervision of student employees.

ABOUT THE BFCA: The Black Film Center/Archive was established at Indiana University Bloomington in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about Black people. The BFCA’s mission today encompasses within its scope films of Africa and the Diaspora. The BFCA’s primary objectives are to promote scholarship on Black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to curate and exhibit Black film, ephemera, and memorabilia; to encourage and promote creative film activity by independent Black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of Black film traditions.

REQUIRED: MLS from an ALA-accredited institution with coursework in Archives or MA in Archive Studies. Two years of relevant work experience in a library, archives, or manuscript repository.

Applications accepted until June 26, 2014, or until position is filled. Resume and cover letter required. For a full position description or to apply, visit http://jobs.iu.edu and search for job number 11247.


Celebrating and Remembering the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4th, 1928, world renowned and legendary author, poet, actress, professor, singer, dancer, playwright, director, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86 on the morning of Wednesday, May 28th in her home in North Carolina, according to a CNN report.

Considered a “Renaissance woman,” “trailblazer,” and cultural “pioneer,” Angelou is remembered most for her books and poetry. Some of these works include her most famous poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” (in her 1978 third volume of poetry titled And Still I Rise) and her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is also remembered for her participation in the civil rights movement and fight for equality as she worked with many civil rights heroes including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Although most known for her written works, Angelou has contributed greatly to theatre and film through both performance and directing. Growing up, Angelou studied dance and drama at the young age of 14 in San Francisco. Angelou toured Europe soon after in the opera production “Porgy and Bess” as a single mother at the age of 17.

Angelou had a passion for theatre and film, but access to the industry wasn’t that easy. In an excerpt from an interview with former Black Film Center/Archive Director and Professor Emeritus of African American and African Diaspora Studies Dr. Audrey T. McCluskey, Dr. Maya Angelou discussed some of her experiences and issues she encountered in the film industry:

McCluskey: You’ve been a pioneer, especially for black women – directing, acting, screenwriting, and even scoring the music. You did such a wonderful job for Down in the Delta. It makes me wonder why you haven’t directed more films.

Angelou: Really the door wasn’t open. I did try to open it in 1972 by doing Georgia, Georgia but I wasn’t allowed to direct it. I wrote it and I wrote the music. But I wasn’t allowed to direct it. A Swedish man who had never even shaken hands with a black person directed it. He had no idea of the nuances that I wanted, that I had written…. It was just not the film I meant at all.

McCluskey: Did that dishearten you to some extent?

Angelou: Well that did and I seemed to get no other offers.  I did go out to 20th Century Fox and I was their first Black female writer/producer.  But I didn’t get a chance to direct Sister, Sister.  I wanted so much to direct it, starring Diahann Carroll, Rosalind Cash, and Irene Cara.

Later in the interview, discussing her directing work on Down in the Delta, Angelou shared her cinematic sensibility:

McCluskey: You have also said that for you the camera was your pen.  How do you go about transferring what I think are essentially your literary sensibilities to film, which is more of an ensemble?

Angelou: Since I can’t do that poetic prose which sets a scene on my yellow pad and in my books, I have to use the camera to help to view it and to know that there is fresh air here and the smell of grass.  The sun has reached this level in the sky.  The things I can do with my pen, I have to make the camera do it.  Phoebe the painter, one of my favorite painters, calls it negative space.  So that she will paint a line or half a face and that leaves the viewer to add in to see where the rest of that face would go.

McCluskey: Did this come about by you actually saying certain things to the cinematographer?

Angelou: Oh yes, absolutely.  We work hand and glove.  I’d say this scene, it takes place in the late afternoon and I want it to look hot.  Even if I see no one with his jacket off or shirt rolled up, I want the viewer to know it is hot in that house.  So I may have to go out on the porch and catch the sun and the shape of the sunlight over the banister to go into the house and through the screen door.  You see?

Despite some of the barriers, Angelou’s influence on and her passion for film and theatre and can be remembered and witnessed in some of the following plays and films:

  • Angelou wrote the screenplay and directed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Angelou became the first African American woman to have her script filmed. The film was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was entered into the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival in 1973.
  • In 1973, Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award in for her performance in Jerome Kilty’s Broadway play “Look Away.”
  • Directed by Fielder Cook, Angelou’s 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was transformed into a made-for-television film in 1979 on CBS.
  • In the 1993 film Poetic Justice, featuring music stars Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, Angelou’s words and poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman,” were recited throughout the film by Jackson’s character Justice. Angelou also contributed by making a cameo appearance in the film.
  • Angelou directed the 1998 film Down in the Delta, starring Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes, Loretta Devine, Esther Rolle and Al Freeman, Jr. This would be the only film Angelou directed that was “mainstream.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the highest civilian honor when he presented her with the Medal of Freedom. Prior to that in 2000, former president Bill Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Arts, and she was requested by Clinton to write a poem for his presidential inauguration in 1993.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for sharing your gifts, talent, and wisdom with the world.

-Katrina Overby

Resources:

http://mayaangelou.com/bio/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/28/us/maya-angelou-obit/

http://www.indiana.edu/~bfca/


Damn the Man, Save the Rex! – Akosua Adoma Owusu Reinvigorates Ghanaian Cinema Culture

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Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Akosua Adoma Owusu is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have shown all over the world.  Earlier this year her film Kwaku Ananse won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Short Film.  She recently changed her home base from suburban DC to Accra, and in her latest project, she’s aiming to reinvigorate film-going culture in Ghana’s capital city.

Last month Owusu launched “Damn the Man, Save the Rex!” — a Kickstarter campaign to revive one of Ghana’s historic cinemas.  The campaign ends later this week on November 15, and she’s raised over two-thirds of her $8000 goal.  The BFC/A’s Nzingha Kendall interviewed her about the impetus for the project, the history of the Rex and her vision for the space.

BFC/A: One of the goals of your “Damn the Man, Save the Rex” project is to add to the vitality of the arts scene in Accra by providing a multifaceted space to showcase art and music in addition to film.  Can you tell us why you decided to launch this venture at the Rex in particular?

Akosua Adoma Owusu: Absolutely! Well, my motivation for launching the Save the Rex campaign came from how I could see this lack of support for African filmmakers, and even more, a lack of spaces for African filmmakers to exhibit and showcase their work.  Moving back to Ghana after the AMAAs [African Movie Academy Awards], I struggled to secure a venue that would premiere a short film because the film didn’t even fit the mold of any film industry structure – abroad or in Ghana.

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Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Also, Ghana has lots of historic cultural institutions that have been left abandoned or have been sold for redevelopment and yet it is not really a cinema-going culture.  These spaces were originally used by local Ghanaian cultural producers and are now left unattended so they are no longer considered fascinating to people in the context of contemporary Ghanaian community.  I want to revive the Rex to give the local Ghanaian creative community and my peers opportunities to be cultural producers in a culture where memory and cultural heritage is often discarded in order to compete in a globalized world.

BFC/A: A follow up question: What role did the Rex play in Ghanaian cinema-going culture?  And why are other historic cinemas in Ghana endangered today?

Owusu: To say it simply, the Rex, among other cinema houses, was built to promote and exhibit Hollywood and foreign movies for local Ghanaian audiences.  With the fast growing and successful video film industry, there was no longer a need for a cinema-going culture. Films could go straight to DVD and directly profit the filmmakers themselves, which is very similar to the Nigerian film industry.  Many private investors in these cinema houses were more concerned about making profit from African ticket sales or promoting foreign cultures, that the cinema houses were no longer profitable.  Then other models developed, like showing locally produced films in the cinema houses.  This model was not profitable either since every household had access to a television, and people prefer to watch films at home, or on a computer or even a phone. How can these cinema houses make money, especially when theaters are also dying abroad?

I think it is time we turn the cinema house into a place where local artists can show their work for the sake of having their work seen by a local audience, which in turn will stimulate cultural production and cultural productivity.  I believe if local Africans can have opportunities to be seen by the local community, they can eventually get noticed by an international one that often rejects their voice.  In Ghana, we live in a culture where the local community would rather see more movies made from our own voice from our own perspective.  That said, I feel it is time we consider investing more in spaces where Africans can have freedom to be cultural producers and stimulate cultural production of our own culture in our own cultural spaces.

BFC/A: On your Kickstarter trailer, you mention that you’ve encountered many situations where people discuss ideal and exciting projects, but that in the end these projects rarely make it past the theoretical stage.  How is it that you’re able to take your ideas and make them reality?

Owusu: Well, I think my process of taking ideas and turning them into reality is similar to my process of making films – they just come together organically.  I really don’t have the time and energy to wait for funding to pull my films together.   I just have to do it.  I cannot wait for funding to get my films made.  I usually make my films with very little and with what already exists out there.  Kwaku Ananse, to date, has been my most expensive film and it was a co-production of 3 countries that came together to make my vision become a reality.  So, I feel that if it takes 3 countries to make my short film, and I am of 2 cultures, it is my duty as an African filmmaker of the diaspora who makes work in Africa, with Africans and foreigners, to collaborate and be of service to my creative community.

BFC/A: Who are some of the Ghanaian artists you plan to showcase at the Rex?  Or if perhaps you don’t want to let the cat out of the bag quite yet, who are some young Ghanaian artists whose work we should keep an out out for?

Owusu: Oh Yes!  Absolutely!  Many of the artists I plan on showcasing at the Rex are my great friends and this is no secret so I’d love to share who I am collaborating with and their involvement in the Save the Rex project.  One artist is my sistren, Nana Offoryiatta-Ayim, a cultural historian, curator and filmmaker.  I’m a filmmaker and curating cultural programs isn’t my forte.  However, I love how Nana has such a great great eye when it comes to spotting great local talent.

There are sculptors Nana Anoff and Mahama Ibrahim.  There is filmmaker Anita Afonu, who made a documentary, Perished Diamonds, about our dying cinema houses,  there is performance artist Serge who comes to mind….There is Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA, of the FOKN BOIS,  there is Kyekyeku who is the protege of legendary guitarist Koo Nimo, there is Jahwai who blends hiphop and reggae…there is Nana Asaase…and Mutombo the Poet…and a young singer, Lady Jay…gosh, I could go on forever!  All of these guys are so incredibly talented. They are the new wave of Ghanaian creatives and I can see them making history and being legends in our future. And, an organization like Accra Dot Alt brings all of these artists, including myself together for cultural events. These guys helped me find a place in Ghana when I didn’t know where I could fit in the current Ghanaian film industry and I’m looking forward to growing with them.  That’s my utopian vision of Africa…it’s right here in Ghana at the Rex Cinema, a place where a gray area of artists can unite and really have the freedom to create.

Click here to contribute and find out more about Owusu’s Kickstarter campaign.

For other information about the Rex and Ghanaian cinema culture:

Jennifer Blaylock (UC Berkeley doctoral student) on the Rex

Blaylock’s slideshow of cinemas in Accra in the late 1960s

JOT Ageyman’s blog post on the Ghanaian film industry

Brigit Meyer’s “Popular Ghanaian Cinema and African Heritage” (subscription required)


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