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The booming Ghanaian movie industry and its challenges

Posted by abocco on Sun, 01/31/2010 - 06:20 GhanaThink Managing Executive

Blog culled from

Ever since my brother sent me that text saying 'A Sting In a Tale' was a bomb, I had been waiting to see it myself. On the second day of my latest Ghana trip, I saw the movie being sold on the streets of Accra. I was caught in two minds. The movie was premiered in November and VCD copies are already being sold? Well, I really want to see this movie, so it's great that now I could buy a copy. A lot of movies were being sold by different hawkers, in fact those selling ASIAT were everywhere. A few other interesting movies were being sold too. If you doubted whether making movies in Ghana was a 'bad' business, doubt no more. It still may be a home video business, but it pays. For some, it pays handsomely. There are a few things that have to be checked to sustain the industry so it doesn't enter the doldrums again in the near future.

Take Agya Koo for instance. He appeared on the scene a few years ago and is one of the biggest movie stars in Ghana. Do a quick search of Agya Koo on Youtube and you'll see how popular he is. Ghanaian movies have proliferated through different websites and have developed strong followings amongst Ghanaian communities abroad. I hear that before Agya Koo signs on to do any movie, he's paid 3000 Ghanaian Cedis (GhC) upfront, which is about $2100. Sounds like a small amount, but he's only on set for about 3-4 days. Yes, $2100 for 4 days of work. In Ogyakrom (or sikakrom). In Ghana. After the movie is done, he pockets another 1000 GhC. Agya Koo (Kofi Adu) probably appears in one or two movies per month, if you follow Ghanaian movies closely enough, you'll know it's true. Do the math.

The other members of the cast get paid too, albeit small amounts compared to what Kofi Adu takes home. Let's make an educated guess and say it costs Miracle Films or Danfo BA Productions about 50000 GhC to make a single movie. If you've seen the movies, the settings, etc won't cost that much. When the movie is done, it normally goes straight to DVD VCD. Each VCD has two disks for a total price of 5 GhC. If you ask around, those who wholesale and retail the movies, as well as the young men and women selling them on the streets and street corners, would tell you over 12000 copies of each movie is sold. That gives us 60000 GhC and a profit of 10000 GhC. For just one movie! Business opportunity, I tell you.

These Kumasi/Twi/Agya Koo/Kyeiwaa movies hardly do any cinema premieres. Is it that their audience cannot afford the GhC 5/10/15/20 to watch the movies at the Accra International Conference Center, Silverbird Cinema or KNUST auditoriums? I don't know. Let's look at the Accra/Takoradi/English movies. A good number of them are doing premieres and charging 5/10/15/20 GhC. In addition to the VCD sales, they pocket some box office sales. I tell you, this movie business is good. Recently, one movie producer, Socrate Sarfo, said movie premiering is a waste of time, energy and money. Abdul Salam of Venus Productions and Shirley Frimpong-Manso of Sparrow Productions have debunked those claims. Shirley said that if she incurred losses on the premieres, she'd have stopped them.

There are challenges though. The primary challenge is piracy. An aunt argued that ASIAT had to be on VCD soon enough because the pirates may strike first. The pirates do strike. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a hawker brandishing a VCD called 'The 3 Virgins' in front of me as our car was stuck in traffic. The VCD cover had a picture of Jackie Appiah, Lydia Forson and Naa Ashorkor Mensah Doku. Sound familiar? Yes, the Perfect Picture VCD cover has a similar picture. Some folks in Nigeria (smh) had repackaged the movie with a new title, new production house, etc to sell the movie. And these were being sold right under our noses in Ghana. The hawker told me it's the Part 2 of Perfect Picture. "This is such bullshit". Some other Nigerian production house had done the same for Heart of Men, renaming it 'Forbidden Fruit'. This is what they call 419. But wait, with the Sakawa going on in Ghana, I won't be surprised, if some Ghanaians were behind this and hiding behind some Nigerian names, etc.

Ghanaian movies have been popularised through various internet channels. Today, many African movie fans know different websites with which to watch African movies. For free. At anytime. These websites feature mostly Nigerian and then Ghanaian movies. Youtube has many movies as well, including some from Ethiopia, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, etc. If you do some proper research, you'll realise the best African movies come from South Africa and the French-speaking countries. These are the ones gunning for international honours, being shown an international festivals and entering DVD collection in foreign stores and school libraries. Enjoying movie popularity is okay but we should want to be part of the conversation when it comes to winning awards and entering international consideration. The VCD format seems to easy to pirate. There are strong concerns whether the movie houses make any money off their movies being shown for free online or sold internationally.

The trailer for Leila Djansi and Akofa Edjeani Asiedu's I Sing Of A Well (ISOAW) made the rounds late last year. It was premiered in Ghana even before ASIAT but I couldn't find the VCDs or DVDs to buy in Ghana. Why? ISOAW is going to different film festivals and is being premiered around the world to different audiences. That's what I am talking about. Maybe Leila has connections, but yes, that's what the film industry needs - more connections. Access to cutting-edge technology, markets, bloggers and journalists who can promote their movies, critics who can rate them properly so they can gauge their progress. I hope to see Leila make more movies in Ghana and Akofa herself contribute to the industry and bring on board some of the dominant but now dormant Ghanaian actors and actresses from the 90's.

KSM knows the movie business is booming and he released his first feature film in Ghana over the Christmas season. Double, a psychological thriller, was premiered at the National Theatre on Christmas Day, 2009. The cast included Anima Misa Amoah (KSM's sister), Charles Bucknor, JOT Agyeman, Nana Kofi Asante, Doris Ansah, Naa Ashorkor Mensah Doku, etc. Anima and Charles were both in Heritage Africa, a famous Ghanaian movie from the 80's, directed by Kwaw Ansah. I wanted to see the movie so bad but I wasn't sure when and where it was going to be shown in Kumasi. It was eventually shown at the Kumasi Polytechnic Hall sometime in late December. My neighbour saw it but didn't like the movie that much. Will have to watch this one to judge for myself. Watch the trailer. We are making thrillers now eh, sweet. People believe KSM should have made a comedy. Maybe, next time.

I also saw 'Sin of the Soul', a film from the same stable that made 'Heart of Men', Heroes production. It featured Majid Michel, Nadia Buari, Prince David Osei, Ekow Smith Asante, Kalsum Sinare, etc. If you don't believe there is money in acting in Ghana, look at Kalsum Sinare. I couldn't even recognise her, she put on weight papa! The movie was good and I'll review it later. I also saw Silent Scandals, a new Nigerian movie starring Genevieve Nnaji and Majid Erawoc. Yes, his name on the Silverbird Cinema poster was Majid Erawoc. Maybe that's what he's called in Naija. The movie was good too, except the VCD 2 didn't work. And apparently, many people who bought the movie had faulty VCD 2's. Hmmm. The guy selling the movies was kind enough to replace it for us.

These are exciting times for Ghanaian and African movies in general. The movies are popular, the actors are rock stars, there are many showbiz sites peddling rumours and paparazzi news, etc. I just hope we stop called our movie industry Ghallywood. That's a kantenkarous name, for lack of a better word. Long live Ghanaian cinema, long live African cinema, long live Africa.