India has its Bollywood and Nigeria, Nollywood. Even New Zealand has a Wellywood. In Ghana, films made in Kumasi and the surrounding region go by a similar shorthand — Kumawood.
The cultural heart of Ghana is about five hours’ drive from the more cosmopolitan coastal capital, Accra, and it was rivalry between the two that played a key role in developing Kumasi’s burgeoning film industry.
Smarting from a jibe nearly a decade ago, Kumawood defiantly built itself up after a teasing by Accra-based counterparts about not being real filmmakers, producer James Aboagye said.
“At that time, the only producer in Kumasi here said that if this is the way they are treating us, then we will stay in Kumasi and create Kumawood,” he told AFP.
And so it did, with some success.
Four years ago, it wasn’t unusual for Kumawood to churn out up to 12 films a week, on a shoestring budget of only 30,000-50,000 cedi ($6,860-$11,440, 6,100-10,160 euros) each.
That included the filming, as well as the cost of releasing the movie and the production of the DVDs.
But power shortages cut that back to a more modest four — still an astonishing figure considering the months, if not years, it takes to make some Hollywood blockbusters.
– ‘Time is money’ –
Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, is known for its rich, cultural heritage and is home to the country’s most-revered royal family.
Films are shot on location around the central city and the surrounding area. Dialogue is in Twi — an Akan dialect spoken by most Ghanaians — and is often unscripted.
Crews shooting a feature-length film within a week can be on-set from first light until midnight, said Aboagye.
“When you come to Kumawood you get the real definition of ‘time is money’. Because the longer you stay on location the more expensive the production becomes,” said Aboagye.
Accra Film School Executive Director Rex-Anthony Annan said some Ghanaians are often embarrassed to admit to liking the films, as they are seen as “low standard”.
But they are hugely popular and regularly shown on long-distance bus trips across the country.
“The fact they are in the local dialect you can relate with it more,” said 22-year-old Eunice Larbie, as she waited for the bus to Accra in Kumasi.
Watching Kumawood films with strangers on the journey brings people together, she added.
The films are slowly making their way in to cinemas in Ghana but are more likely found on local television, online or DVD at the roadside.
Kumawood currently produces about 40 percent of all Ghanaian films while those made in Accra account for about half. The rest originate from other parts of the west African country, Annan said.
But Kumawood stars are more popular than those of Accra-made films and their movies are played all over the world by homesick Ghanaians, he added.
– Plot holes –
Kumawood films don’t necessarily follow rules and filmmakers aren’t professionally trained. Often there’s no plot and confusion reigns.
“Kumawood conflicts are almost never resolved, they go on and on. They always have challenges with the technical stuff,” said Annan.
Post-production special effects, such as people or objects levitating, are obvious targets for ridicule, he added.
“In some movies they try to do funny things, shooting, blood, it’s a feature of their movies. There’s always a ghost, some spirit coming from somewhere,” he said.
On-set, actress Amanda Nana Achiaa rubs dirt over her arms and ruffles her hair.
Wearing green tracksuit bottoms with holes cut in them, the 25-year-old prepares for an emotional scene, depicting life as a street child.
The producer shouts “Action!” and the camera rolls. Another actor limps around the corner and falls down next to her on the ground.
The film’s only cameraman films a close-up of Achiaa’s tears.
Achiaa said she’s lost count of the number of Kumawood movies she’s been in. She started her career in 2004 in the hope of one day making it in Hollywood.
She still does.
“Oh my god, I will kill myself for it! That’s what I am picturing, that’s where I want to be,” she shouts.
– Moral lesson –
Kumawood films usually have a moral lesson, said director Bismark Okyene. The 32-year-old’s film starring Achiaa was about family, deception and greed.
Once the crew gets all the shots they need of the street children, they quickly move to a nearby house.
Setting up on a dirt path, one person holds a boom for the lone microphone, while the cameraman crouches against a wall of the house and begins filming.
Three masked men carrying plastic guns come barrelling around the corner, chased by another actor wearing a torn and loose-fitting blue camouflage police uniform.