24/01/2018

Kukurantumi, Road To Accra - The Futile Road?

Thoughts On: Kukurantumi, Road To Accra (1983)


Made by King Ampaw, this is the Ghanaian film of the series.


Not too long ago, we briefly explored Ghanaian cinema and Ghallywood through a contemporary film, Sakawa Boys. Sakawa Boys is a representative of a relatively new era of African filmmaking that follows the initial rise of industries such as Nollywood. The Nigerian film industry, in the late 80s and 90s, was essentially the first national African cinema to emerge on its own and remain, by and large, self-sufficient. Numerous industries across Africa have since emerged with similar aesthetics and business models, and Ghallywood is a prime example of this. However, today we have in our hands a film that predates Ghallywood and Nollywood.

After African states began to gain their independence and African people started making films, but before the rise of strong commercial industries, was a period of African filmaking that had heavy links to countries beyond the continent. A key figure that is attached to the emergence of African film and this era is Jean Rouch, a French filmmaker who is considered one of the founding forces of the French New Wave as well as a pioneer of the ethnographic film. Rouch, in connection with colonial movements in the 1940s, arrived in Africa as an engineer. He stayed beyond this period to record ethnographic documentaries of African people/life, and later involved Africans in the making of ethnographic fictional films. He would also be involved with cine clubs and cultural centres that would train and provide equipment to African filmmakers such Oumarou Ganda, who is often considered one of the first great Nigerian directors.

Also in this period other African filmmakers were receiving education in European countries and returning to Africa to make films. One of the most pivotal and famous figures who was apart of this generation is Ousmane Sembène. Sembène is often noted as the father of African film for it was in the 1960s that he started to reflect upon what it meant to make an African film and so brought a critical lens to African cinema with Black Girl. Sembène was then not just critical of the colonialists and their impact on Africa, but would turn to who some would call an ally of African film, Jean Rouch, and famously criticise him. Sembène's famous words then were "You look at us like insects".

Along with Sembène came other African filmmakers who were trained and educated in Europe. For example, emerging from the post-independence, pre-Nollywood era are Souleymane Cissé, who made Yeelen, and Mahamat Saleh Haroun, who made Abouna. King Ampaw, director of Road To Accra, also emerged from this period and was educated in Europe. Unlike Sembène, Cissé and Haroun, however, Ampaw didn't emerge from France, instead, Germany and Vienna.

It was in Munich University that Ampaw studied alongside Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog; he would even go on to star in Herzog's 1987 film, Cobra Verde. Before working with Herzog, however, Ampaw would move back to his home country, Ghana, to make a few films through his own production company, Afromovies, the first of which was Road To Accra. So, whilst this is a German co-production, and whilst this isn't an African film in the same respect Nollywood classics or even Sakawa Boys are, this film has a strong African stamp.

Set close to where Ampaw was born - Kukurantumi - Road To Accra deals with the relationship between rural and city life (Accra being Ghana's capital). With this, as you may expect, also comes generational conflicts that all construct a question of progression. What distinguishes this narrative is its hints of comedy that play with the darker thematic elements. And in such, though this is a film about a family falling apart and a man struggling, failing and having his efforts quashed as he works for a living and for his family, Road To Accra sees its main character take punches as he moves through life and keep his chin up. Progress is then not a monstrous force in this narrative. Instead, there is a projected faith in basic principals of living: hard work, loyalty and honesty. Retaining these qualities as best as he can, we see our main character face the futility of life and walk in the shadow of progress stoically. And such may be perceived as a key African principal and characteristic: resilience. From The Crowd to The Apartment to Office Space, there have been a plethora of American films that see characters search for meaning outside of their constant, futile journey from work to home. But, where these films see no meaning on this road, Ampaw constructs a character who inherently understands the meaning that transcends this road. And thus, the road is our main character's greatest enemy and best friend, which is one of the most expressive and powerful elements of this film.

It is now then that we'll bring things to an end. However, before I link to this film I'll ask what are your thoughts on all we've covered today and Road To Accra as an African film?



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