REACHING FOR THE PROMISE OF THE BLACK STAR INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

As cinephile cupping a flickering candle of hope for of an awakening of Ghanaian cinema, 2016 has basically been walk through a tart blizzard whipped up by the forces of mainstream GH cinema’s frivolity. But I look up in the horizon and see perhaps some easement in the Black Star International Film Festival (BSIFF). I can’t say how secure this shelter will be and whether my candle will find other candles to form a more forceful beacon of warmth and light but it certainly is a better bet that what came before.

After scrolling through the ridiculous nominations list at last year’s Ghana Movie Awards it was as clear as it had ever been that the Ghanaian cinema space needed marquee event that actually put the films first as opposed to appearing to do same. I put out a gripey post to that effect and then since then, we have had director Shirley Frimpong Manso roll out her Sparrow Entertainment Festival in February – a limited two-day event but one aiming in the right direction and I hope it starts to take a lot more steps forwards in 2017.

A few weeks after the Sparrow fest, I listened to filmmaker, Juliet Asante, announce plans had been in the works for an international film festival with pan-African leanings set for August 2016 – what we now know as the Black Star International Film Festival. The BSIFF, as outlined by Juliet Asante, is the event one would hope a lot of the small scale film festivals we have evolve into, on the way to something substantive. A marquee Ghanaian film event is long overdue and maybe Juliet Asante’s baby could fill that slot.

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Juliet Asante (L)

On the publicity trail, I have heard the always buoyant Asante talk about how the BSIFF is aiming to be a film forum and an advocacy platform. Its goal is to create a bridge between the local and international film industry with a much needed focus on the business of film. The dysfunction that resides in our business of film has been well documented and that certainly needs a shakeup. It will be interesting to see how they plan to set a benchmark for proper industry standards. The festival will also see some form of advocacy for favourable industry policies locally, whilst showcasing international productions.

The BSIFF opened for submissions in March with entry and screening cost being subsidised by the organisers. When the official selection was made public, my expectation were reasonably exceeded. The festival will see films from Bulgaria, Iran, Brazil, Tunisia, the homeland of course and more. There are also animated offerings coming from Portugal, Brazil and Ghana which on the surface convey some refreshing stylized imagination. For one, the Brazilian animated short, The Migrant sports some striking puppet-like stop-motion animation.

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The Migrant

The Migrant has the feel of a bleak and surreal telling of a mother and her baby’s struggle amidst a world drawing from culture, religion and a degree of social awareness – a film I would recommend on pure aesthetic. There is also The Peculiar Life of a Spider from which will go on record as the first film to feature the iconic overly wise folk character, Anansi. The Peculiar Life of a Spider sports this rough South Park-style animation and with the right script that film, directed by one Comfort Arthur, could be a real treat.

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The Peculiar Life of a Spider

On the live action side of things I can only really point to the Bulgarian production, I Love You Daddy, as moving my needle. It is fixing to be layered story of a daughter forced into prostitution to cater for her father who has cancer and I like the aura and aesthetic the stills convey. Ghana is well represented on with six films but nothing particularly crying for attention as yet (save for the Anansi short) so the jury will be left to the screening day. Speaking of a jury, the BSIFF doesn’t have a competitive vibe about it. There will be no grand prizes when it’s all said and done but there are a number of panel discussions on film.

I Love You Daddy
I Love You Daddy

The panel sessions will look at new media as pertaining to film – immaterial if strong screenplays don’t exists as far as I am concerned. There will also be a session looking at the financing end of the business of film – always a critical discussion for markets not called China or the USA. Equally important will be the session on the distribution of film, another component of the business of film. The final panel session will look at Kumawood and Nollywood as pertaining to international business models of film. I can’t tell how enriching these discussions will be but they will nonetheless be discussions on film, something our film “industry” wants for.

One other thing I have heard Asante make mention of is the expected presence of film producers from far and wide. The potentially strong and hopefully impressive films will need a life and legs beyond the festival and the best things the official selections (Ghanaian ones especially) could hope for is production house willing to push their films after the event – both locally and internationally. That would be the ultimate reward for some of these filmmakers of indie decent who most likely have truly earnest stories to tell but that unfortunately means limited marketability especially in Ghana.

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Daggers of Life is one of the Ghanaian films in the official selection

Early in 2016, Nate Parker’s debut film, The Birth of a Nation, won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience prize for a drama which is great for a first time filmmaker, but more importantly there were a slew of production houses waiting to secure a distribution deal. Fox Searchlight Pictures eventually acquired the distribution rights to the film for an impressive $17.5 million dollars breaking the record for the most money paid for a Sundance Film Festival production. Can the most impressive film from the BSIFF garner a similar commitment – let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I will admit a small part of felt like Asante and her gang may have been doing too much given the lack if a film festival culture in Ghana or a film culture period. But for a first crack at it, the BSIFF looks like a solid and promising set up. Alas it will only go as far as the audience support will take it. Did she miss a trick in not leeching onto the buzz of the just ended Chale Wote street art festival– it certainly wouldn’t have hurt? Nonetheless my candle still flickers for GH cinema and hopefully this festival draws praise and not gripes from yours truly.

By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/delalibessa@yahoo.com/Ghana

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