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African cinema has birthed such greats as Haile Gerima, Kwaw Ansah, Kukurantumi’s King Ampaw, Abderrahmane Sissako, Ousmane Sembène, Souleymane Cissé, Idrissa Ouedraogo and Djibril Diop Mambety. Since 2016, Accra has been keeping the spirits of the legendary makers and their art alive with Africa Film Society’s outdoor film show Classics in the Park.
Many of Accra’s cinemas, such as the Rex, Orion, Opera, Oxford and Globe, have seen better days. Nowadays, the authentic cinema experience drawing in the crowds is the monthly outdoor event Classics in the Park. This innovative project was founded by Ghanaian filmmaker, composer and performer Blitz Bazawule.
At Classics in the Park, some solid African classic cinema experience is guaranteed under the breezy Osu skies. Akola Boni Park, not far from the serene Atlantic tides at Nyaniba Estate, is hard to miss. Every last Saturday of the month, from 6pm to 9pm, Akola Boni Park is illuminated, and eyes light up as the image hits the screen.
Since its first event on September 24, 2016, Classics in the Park has drawn audiences from widely different age groups and film tastes to sit on their comfy raffia palm frond mats. They’ve shown King Ampaw’s classic Kukurantumi – the Road to Accra (1983) and Wanuri Kahiu’s sci-fi short Pumzi (2009) in one night, and lined up the Egbert Adjesu classic I Told You So (1970) and Frances Bodomo’s Afronauts (2014) back to back in another.
Classics in the Park this March celebrated Kwaw Ansah, the legendary Ghanaian filmmaker who wrote and directed the FESPACO prize-winner Heritage… Africa (1989). Set in an independence-spirited Ghana in 1955, the picture is a brave effort at storytelling while analyzing local politics.
The outdoor screening project invited Heritage… Africa actor Anima Misa to talk about the film project and give the audience an insight into what it was like to be behind the cameras. Kwaw Ansah also shared his views about the current focus on African cinema.
“Cinema is a powerful tool for education, because it is seen and heard,” founder Bazawule explains. “It affords those who are from a different culture the chance to catch a glimpse of other cultures. Africa Film Society’s focus is on classic films, most of which are not in print, or for sale or popular. The other side of the project is allowing the people who made the work to speak about the work.
“You cannot create this type of work if the audience isn’t ready for it. There’s the educational and entertainment aspect. We are a production house and an educational hub working on having a distribution network created, so that when our films and films from our peers are made, there’s a highway, or there’s an underground railroad, that you can go on and your film can be seen across the continent.”
Africa Film Society also runs a Screenwriting Competition. This year, out of about 150 screenplay submissions from 12 African countries, Kampala Film School student Grace Nabisenke came out tops.
African governments are failing to fund innovative cultural programs such as this, but this doesn’t hamper the passion of the Classics in the Park team. Everything is self-funded and volunteer-based.
Free outdoor cinema has the advantage of bringing together a wide variety of film lovers, including people who can’t afford traditional cinemas, or don’t feel welcome there. Bazawule spoke about the challenges involved.
“It revolves around commitment,” he said. “Anything you’re doing in Ghana is going to be a challenge. It depends on how passionate you are in the long term. We are committed to grow into production, so we invest in the ecosystem so that our films will get homes. Africa Film Society looks to extend to Nairobi, Johannesburg, Lagos, Casablanca and Dakar. The idea is to allow African cinema to proliferate in Africa. Our work is to start from Ghana, making outdoor cinema a communal thing again.”