Thoughts On: Sakawa Boys - Approaching Ghallywood


Sakawa Boys - Approaching Ghallywood

Thoughts On: Sakawa Boys (2010?)

A look at commercial West African filmmaking.

Many cinefiles may not have seen an African film. Some, like myself, have maybe seen a sparse few. However, African film to its national and diasporic audiences is, of course, a well-consumed cinema. As many people will then know, Africa holds one of the most prolific film industries in the whole world (Nollywood) that is ever expanding. Whilst some African nations produce art films that, whilst they may be distinctly African, resemble world-wide standards of professional filmmaking (an example of this would be A Screaming Man), there is a more general spectrum of commercial filmmaking that has varying standards of production. The quality of African films, whether they be from Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, etc, is dependent (as is true across the world) on access to money, technology and time.

Understanding why African films function as they do then requires understanding that the majority of commercial productions do not have particularly high budgets, nor do they utilise the cutting edge tech that filmmakers working on Marvel films do and nor do filmmakers have very long to get these films made. African film industries, such as that of Nigeria, have been built up in the last 30 years (filmmaking in Nigeria does date back to the 1960s, but has made significant since the 90s) by entrepreneurs who essentially have a passion for telling stories and a drive to shoot a script within a week or so, get it converted to video of VCD and sell it on the local market before starting all over again. (In the modern day, some films will find their way to the few cinemas a country has or, more commonly, straight to the internet). The final product will often be very clunky, but it will nonetheless be a product that local people will consume.

Though there is so much more that could be said about the manner in which some African films are made, it is in the idea of market demands where we find the crux of our topic for today. African films can be very responsive to current events: if something important is happening in a city or a new trend is developing, within weeks or months, there will be a huge influx of movies made about it - many of which will have, at the least, a part two or three, whilst some will have sequels that can hit  numbers that make the likes of Fast & Furious seem modest.

What this says about African commercial films is that they are very often made, quite specifically, for their local audiences. Having some incite into what is/was going on around the the date of a movie's release, or knowing some elements of cultures, can then often be the key to understanding African films and consuming them in a genuine manner. Today, we have a rare example of an African film that we can look at with quite a strong understanding of its content. So, let us begin talking about Ghallywood and Sakawa Boys.

Ghallywood refers to a certain portion of the film industry in Ghana. As you will find in countries throughout the world, from Belgium to India and beyond, you can split the Ghanaian film industry into distinct sub-industries because of varying sub-cultures and languages. This phenomenon is prevalent throughout Africa because boarders between countries were, of course, not naturally formed. Around the turn of the 20th century The Scramble For Africa took place over a few decades, which saw colonial powers, such as Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain, etc, chop up Africa into portions of land that they could exploit and make money off of. Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, is no exception to this rule - which explains why the various cultures that would have inhabited the region have had to conglomerate into one nation over the previous century, and why the film industry is split.

Ghallywood is the English-language cinema that emerges from the capital on the coast: Accra. There is a somewhat separate Twi-language cinema of Kumawood, however, that is centred in Kumasi. Ghallywood cinema is more developed than Kumawood with its filmmakers having greater access to training, education, resources and money. As you would expect, Ghallywood cinema then holds higher production value and so can include some special effects and utilise genres to produce more lavish and spectacular films. And whilst Ghallywood is seen to be occupied with more foreign subject matter, it has an ability to reflect the culture and current events of Accra. As a result, what we can expect from Ghallywood is genre mixing in with melodrama - melodrama and highly expressive acting styles is, notably, quite common in commercial African films - to produce films that specifically appeal to local audiences.

So, what we will now look at is a documentary that investigates, in some depth, the subject matter that is relevant to the film we will take a look at today, and so will allow us to make our approach to Ghallywood and African film in a, hopefully, multi-dimensional manner.

As you may have guessed, we will now see exactly how Ghanaian filmmakers dealt with the phenomena of sakawa with the film Sakawa Boys. Before jumping straight towards this: Considering all we've discussed and seen, we may be expecting a ludicrous and laughably bad movie. Sakawa Boys is, and presents itself as if it knows it is, not very well made; there are numerous continuity errors, the acting is very melodramatic, there are parts where strange props are used (a camera instead of a phone) and whole scenes that have boom mics, or the entire crew of the movie, caught in the frame...

... that are all embraced and integrated into the flow of narrative. However, I hope that knowing about the manner in which, and the reasons why, this was produced and that keeping in mind the conventions of Ghallywood (those pertaining to genre filmmaking, melodrama and highly expressive acting styles) make this film a little more rounded and complex than preconceptions may allow. After all, there is a conflict that those who explore world cinema have to wrestle. Whilst it is necessary to try to understand a culture and movie, truth remains pertinent to film criticism. Thus, we can understand Sakawa Boys to be a movie that is, objectively speaking, simultaneously worse than and completely separate the from the average Hollywood blockbuster. This ultimately means that our aim in watching Sakawa Boys should be to see it without too much condescending sympathy and leniency, and also without dismissive comparison and laughter. In taking much of what we've discussed and seen today into this movie, we should be able to see the virtues of Sakawa Boys' story and production as well as its downfalls whilst experiencing a kind of film we may have never encountered before.

Let it be said that what you are about to see is one film in a series that does not reach a real conclusion in its first part. So, once you've seen Sakawa Boys and maybe even its later parts, I'd love to know what your thoughts on this  movie and our topic for today are.

I apologise to anyone visiting this post after it was put up, but the film has been taken off of YouTube

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