Besides allowing you the chance to get out of the city and see the rest of our beautiful, beautiful country, road trips are great for idle thinking and relaxation… except on public transportation.
Taking a bus in Ghana – be it Intercity STC, Metro MT, or a simple trotro – you may be allowed to think for all of five minutes. Then one of a few things will happen:
- the driver will turn on a radio station. Loudly.
- a preacher will start preaching (to the already-converted. I just don’t get that).
- the driver will start showing a series of Nollywood or Ghallywood (I hate that name) movies.
- all or more than one of the above.
I was trying to get some shut-eye on an STC trip from Cape Coast over the weekend. The driver was hurtling us towards Accra at breakneck speed to make it on-time for the Black Stars game against the US. I was just succumbing to sleep when… the buses two screens flickered on.
For the rest of the ride, I was subjected to The Female Lion I, The Female Lion II (why not The Lioness?) and The Signs of End Times. Even by local standards, all three were rubbish and won’t be winning any Academy Awards for acting, screenplay, soundtrack, special effects (that’s not what happens when you shoot people at close range…) or imagination. It got me thinking though: what would it take to transform a Hollywood film into a Nollywood/Ghallywood one?
Based on these three films, here’s what I came up with.
- Change the actors and setting to Nigeria or Ghana
- Try and make the lead actor light-skinned
- Divide the film into two or three parts
- If each film is not long enough, prolong it by reducing the amount of editing you do (e.g. spend two or three whole minutes playing a song and focusing on the hero/heroine doing housework, to establish that they are hardworking)
- In any scene with background music, replace the music with someone playing an electronic organ
- In any scene without any background music, replace the music with someone playing an electronic organ
- You can never get enough electronic organ music
- Replace any decent special effects with the same special & sound effects that were used in 1960s TV shows like Star Trek
- If there’s no scene with shouting, insert one and make sure to distort the sound when the shouting hits high decibels
- Get your electronic organist to compose a song that tells you the theme of the movie and helps you to give away the ending
- Option: someone needs to get bitch-slapped up in there. Tradition demands it.
That was all the fun I could come up with before we got into Accra… where I had the sublime pleasure of watching the Black Stars change the name of the American soccer team from ‘the Stars and Stripes’ to ‘black and blue’.
I’d love to get into Nollywood and Ghanaian films. I would. And I applaud directors who do not conform to the above-mentioned stereotypes. But I was raised on internationally award-winning local films like Heritage Africa and Love Brewed in the African Pot. I’m not saying don’t have romance or melodrama. I do however wish there was more of a balance between commercial-driven films and art.
Back in school, the release of a Ghanaian film was a major event, with students from all over Cape Coast meeting in Mfansipim to watch Kwaw Ansah’s classics as they were projected onto the white wall of our assembly hall stage.
If I was a money-conscious movie director, I’d aim to make a small, decent film that would win me international awards. In the long run, this is more commercially sensible. Ask Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican who directed Y Tu Mama Tambien, got Oscar-nominated and went on to direct Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Or South African Gavin Hood who directed Tsotsi, won the first Oscar awarded to an African film and went on to do Wolverine.
You may or may not have liked either film but I’m guessing Azkaban and Wolverine both made more money than the highest-earning Nollywood movie that year.
Which did wonders for their directors’ pockets.