Making Our Own Luck
It's no secret that the film industry in Ghana has been stagnant for the past few decades, with little to no innovation in the kinds of stories and films being put out. In addition to this, the industry has seemingly turned a blind eye to stories that the youth, who represent an increasing amount of the population, can relate to.
Here to fill in the gap is Abstrakte Productions, a film production company based in Ghana and Canada hoping to tell authentic African stories with a quality and relatability that can be appreciated on a global scale.
We caught up with a couple members of the Abstrake team on a serene Wednesday night in Dzorwulu, Accra, to talk about the creative arts scene in Ghana, youth empowerment and of course their upcoming film 'Lucky'.
Why don't you both introduce yourselves for those who might not know.
TG: I’m Togbe Gavua. I’m a director and co-founder of Abstrakte Productions.
KAA: I’m Kusi Adu-Amankwah, executive producer on the film Lucky, and a cooperate exec at Abstrakte.
Tell me about about Abstrake.
TG: In short, we make films and sometimes music videos, but the main goal of the films we are trying to make is to tell the everyday African story. My cousin Lawrence Adjei, and Godfred Adjei, who’s a cinematographer, put together this company to take a crack at making commercially successful feature films. And Lucky is the first product.
What does telling everyday African stories mean?
TG: Well Lucky is a demonstration of this where we decided to tell the story of a University of Ghana student whose just tryna find money to take a girl out on a date. Some might ask “What’s the big deal?” behind a story like that, but unfortunately in the current African cinema landscape, none of these relatable everyday kind of stories are being told.
It’s always those extremist takes and weird African stories. And when the West tries to tell our stories for us it’s always on some Hotel Rwanda, Last King of Scotland, Beast of no Nations type shit. To quote the great Chinua Achebe, “If you don’t like the stories being told, tell your own.”, so here we are.
How did the Lucky project come about?
TG: Well I grew up in Ghana, but had the privilege of going to film school in Canada. I was on my grind out there but it wasn’t particularly fulfilling.
Eventually came back to Ghana, shot a short film, got into a number of film festivals and won a couple awards. After that, I ended up hooking up with Lawrence and began shooting music videos, which ended up doing well enough to get nominated for best hip-hop video in Canada.
Ended up losing to Drake on both occasions though (Laughs).
(Laughs) '6 God' huh..
TG: Yeah, I guess he is (Laughs).
But with regards to Lucky, we’d always wanted to do a feature film. We had some projects before but weren’t able to secure the funding, after factoring in the advice of certain OGs in the industry we decided to make a smaller project (Lucky), which ended up being a big project anyway.
Myself and Kumi Obuobisa, a good friend of mine and a co-producer at Abstrakte, essentially started off with a rough idea for the film and fleshed it out over an 8 month period, got the script and co-produced with a writer named Joe Wackle, who's an amazing human being by the way.
So yeah we had the script, but then we still no dey find any money, and that’s where Kusi came in. Fortunately he believed in the idea, and through believing in it he was able to secure the funding through some of his associates.
So Kusi, what inspired you to help fund a project like this?
KAA: Honestly, Togbe sold the dream and we were on the same page from the beginning.
I’ve always had an interest in literature and the arts, and always understood the importance of telling our own stories. Lucky provided such an opportunity, so it was an honor for me to be a part of this production.
So yeah, I saw the script, immediately appreciated the satirical manner in which it addressed the different parts of our society, and I was game.
Would you say you related to the story being told?
KAA: I think I related to every bit of it, and the parts I didn’t relate to I could still feel, and knew people who would relate to it. So it really just seemed like a story FOR US, BY US.
I brought up the relatability of the story because we feel that’s one of the major appeals of the movie. There are so many young adults in Ghana who feel like they relate to at least one character in the movie, which really highlights the lack of locally made films that the youth can relate to.
KAA: Exactly. Part of the reason I was so honored to be a part of the entire project is because it really is an attempt to make cinematic history. This is the first film of it’s kind. A high quality independent film from this part of the world.
Hopefully it will set the ball rolling on many more. Which kinda leads to my next question. What does the whole team at Abstrakte hope to achieve from making this movie?
TG: Well my dream is to get Lucky on as many screens as possible, not because I’m tryna make money per se, but because I want people to see what happens when you put a little money and effort into making a good film. I want people to see the story, because we actually believe in the story.
How was the whole casting process like, we met Kumi (Star of Lucky) the other day, how did he get involved?
TG: So Kumi was actually one of our co-producers as well, and he always told me his dream was acting and I dunno, I just believed he could do it just from knowing him as a person. So lowkey I had him in mind the whole time I was writing the script. Also for the character Pamela (Buki), I literally had her in mind the whole time to play that character.
Besides that, we were privileged to be able to have an audition for some of the other roles and had like 100+ people showing up.
What do think that means? The fact that so many people were willing to take part in something like this?
TG: It means there’s a lot of people out here yearning to create, yearning to participate in art, yearning to be working actors you know. And there’s a lot of people with talent.
I feel like as a society we need to be investing more in art, in film making etc., to create a culture where people can pursue these endeavors professionally and full time. So we’re really hoping this film will be the project that will break the doors open and help change the cinematic culture in Ghana.
KAA: The story we’re trying to tell is a simple one, but Lucky is able to portray us Africans in a better light, with respect to the actual quality of the production.
As a people it affects our consciousness to always see our story being told a specific way. In western movies, black Africans are always portrayed a certain way, we don’t know how much it affects our psyche. So we’re tryna consciously reset people minds, and I think film is one of the best tools of doing this, because film really affect people's consciousness.
We saw you guys did a video with La Même Gang. What do you think about think about this new creative movement going around, with regards to them, and all the other acts popping up and bringing a new energy to the scene.
KAA: I think it’s happening, I think it’s actually happening.
The Celestine Prophecy, speaks about a shift in consciousness that’s supposed to happen around the end of 20th century, moving into the 21st century, where a certain group of people start realizing a shift in the collective consciousness. I see that happening through the arts.
Waves are being made and we’re onto something.
TG: In the world zeitgeist, I feel like the only thing really missing in the puzzle is Africa.
I read something that described Africa as the ‘last’ frontier on earth, not the next frontier, but the last.
TG: Yeah, everyone seems so ahead of Africa on many things, yet we are the source of everything and I feel like we’re going through a renaissance right now.
Essentially it's a breath of fresh air seeing all these young cats going hard and making authentic art by experimenting and combining things you wouldn’t typically expect.
Yeah, it’s very palpable whats going on. It seems the youth is starting to get more confident in themselves and in their art, and are finding it to be a very primal way of expressing themselves. Also, somewhat related is the fact that governments are failing at providing jobs for the youth in Africa, so this art movement also seems quite entrepreneurial.
TG: Yes, the ‘Ghanaian Dream’ is pretty bleak right now. The youth don’t find the conventional routes attractive because there’s just so much more we can do. We can become astronauts, we can become rocket scientists, and we really shouldn’t let where we are stop us from doing what we really want to do, and being all we can be.
It’s no surprise that all great art movements are triggered by some rough socio-political conditions.
TG: Yeah, we talk a lot about this youth movement/revolution, and art is very important to the revolution.
In spite of this though, there does still seem to be some stigma towards art, goods and services from this part of the world. Ghanaians don’t seem to rate the stuff produced here, and the general unprofessional nature associated with us doesn't help either. Talk a bit about that.
TG: Well, in the gereral scheme of things people have become very apathetic to things. Largely due to the amount of mediocrity we have decided to be accepting of as a country. For example, there’s a large demographic of people who don’t like locally made films, because they are actually of bad quality. They might have some decent stories, but usually the writing is bad, the cinematography is bad, the sound is bad. So how do you expect people to patronize?
Especially when we're in the age of YouTube and Netflix, so we're pretty much competing on a global scale.
TG: Exactly, also people tend to assume that the local population won’t get, or appreciate the higher quality stuff, but nah, they can tell when something is good, so you always gotta go hard.
It’s kinda sad how since Osibisa we haven’t really had a major musical export.
At least now we have acts like Mr. Eazi, and in Nigeria Wizkid, Davido etc. are holding it down.
So how do we get more of the youth to realize its their time?
KAA: Well we’re gonna help them realize it, through the stories we’re gonna be telling.
People might not be as aware of this, but when Kwame Nkrumah and the big six were all making moves, they were in their 20s. Gaddafi and all the other African pioneers we look up to were all in their twenties.
They started running things at an early age, so once we can get the youth to realize their power early enough, it’s a wrap. The domino effect will begin.
What do you think is needed to sustain this kind of energy then?
TG: Finance bro, Money.
We need people to invest in the arts. Economics plays a very pivotal role in social and industrial endeavors, and film making for example, is a whole industry.
So aside the cultural benefits, there will be a lot of socio-economic benefits as well if the capital is made available for projects like this.
It's now up to individuals like us to educate people on the importance of cinema and the arts to national development, and encourage them to invest in it accordingly.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity