Frontline Ghanaian filmmakers say direct to video filmmaking was first done by Ghanaians and not Nigerians as popularly believed.
“Video productions started here in the 80s,” says George Arcton-Tettey, Gama Film company's Manager Production Services. “It all started here in the Ghana Film Theatre,” added the Accra-based film director, where he sat watching the shoot of a new television series entitled “Chorkor Tro-Tro”.
It was on the premises of TV3, a privately-owned TV station.
Arcton-Tettey dated the beginning of video production back to the 80s, crediting distribution and exhibition entrepreneur, William Akufo, with pioneering direct-to-video feature production popularly known as home video with his release of Zinabu which was a hit on the theatre circuit and generated sequels because of its popularity.
“The Executive here used to be the place we watched official productions,” he says, referring to a hall on the premises of the Ghana Film theatre. “There used to be an over-flow of the audience from this theatre here into The Executive.
For testimony, Arcton-Tettey called Akufo by phone. “Yes, I started it with Zinabu around 85/86,” Akufo says. “I went on to shoot Zinabu part 2 and part 3.”
At the time, Arcton-Tettey stresses, the movies were only exhibited in the theatres, not released on video. “Apart from Zinabu Akufo went on to produce several others,” he says. “He now runs a school where he trains filmmakers.”
“I have not stopped producing,” Akufo says, “just that we have to impart the knowledge and experience to the younger ones. Through those productions we realized that we were doing it wrongly. So, we're training them now.
To further put the Nigerian film industry in its place, Arcton-Tettey speaks about how Nigerian pioneer filmmakers used to come to Ghana to edit and process their movies, listing among those who did, Ola Balogun, Moses Olaiya and Eddie Ugbomah. Even Fela, with his unreleased The Black President whicfh had its sound track burnt in the fire that consumed his “Kalakuta Republic” in 1976 during his face-off with Nigeria's military dictators.
“I edited one of Eddie Ugbomah's films with my boss,” he recalls.” I think that was Boulus 80.”
The decline of production of movies on celluloid, Arcto-Tettey says, came essentially when the Ghana government divested its interests in the publicly-owned Ghana Film Corporation and TV3 bought it up in 1996. “It became a TV Station and the film production unit became an appendage because TV3's core business was television broadcasting and production. They then started showing Nigerian films the Nollywood video productions on their channels, That was the beginning of the popularity of Nigerian videos in Ghana. Nigerian films began to sell in the market on VHS and later on VCDs.”
Inevitably, even established film producers such as Kwah Ansah (Love Brewed in an African Pot, Heritage Africa) had to p[roduce video, his most popular being “Harvest at Seventeen”, a story about teenage pregnancy sponsored by the Ghana Commission on Culture.
Unlike the Nigerian movie industry which is generally acknowledged to be experiencing a decline, the Ghanaian video industry, Arcton-Tettey insists, “is very much on the upswing.”
He categorizes the industry into three. “The first is the group that produces films with Nigerian collaborations. That's the group that does the typical Ghanaian stories, without western coloration.
“The second is the group of local producers without Nigerian collaborations and their films are very good, too. The third group produces indigenous language movies and it is based in Kumasi. It turns out about five movies every week out of about eitght to ten total production of the Ghanaian film industry per week.”