Every now and then, a national film industry succeeds in making the leap to international success. African cinema has been dominated for the last decade by prolific and popular Nollywood productions and their more artistically inclined South African counterparts. Now Ghana looks like it may be stepping up to make that breakthrough.
It has been an interesting year in the Ghanaian film industry, affectionately known as Ghallywood. In February the country's National Film and Television Institute began working on a new project aimed at securing German financial backers for locally produced films, and in April Ghanaian actor Majid Michel was named the best actor on the continent at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. A substantial Ghanaian contingent attended last month's Cannes Film Festival, including the popular actress Jackie Appiah.
Big name stars in Ghana still routinely work for just $3,000 to $5,000 a film. Though this is substantial in relation to standard local salaries it raises concerns that talent could easily be lured away to the West, and already there have been suggestions that Nollywood is outbidding the local industry for acting talent, which Nigerian actors aren't too pleased about either. Many Nigerians feel that the Ghanaian industry is little more than an extension of their own, as a large proportion of Ghaian crew members trained there. Concerns have also been raised about the sensationalist subject matter of many films, particularly given its potential to reinforce the prejudices of outsiders. (A tip: despite what you may see on the screen, Ghana is no more filled with crazed. murderous witch doctors than Britain is filled with crazed, murderous East End gangsters.) But increasing acclaim is giving actors like Michel the power to speak out about the quality of the films they are in. Ghana is starting to find its own artistic voice.