Why Ghana, Why Accra, Why Documentary
As the name of this annual upcoming annual gathering suggests, the initiators of the project would like to circumscribe their action within a regional West African framework, and more specifically that of the member-states of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). The ultimate ambition though is to extend the reach of the forum to all member-states of the African Union.
Ghana, an Anglophone country, is strategically located on the West African coast and shares all its borders with French-speaking countries. This privileged position makes the country a central player able to foster intellectual and cultural dialogue and exchange. Indeed Ghana has a long intellectual tradition in the region and is historically known as the beacon of Pan-Africanism. One of its neighbors, Burkina Faso, has been hosting the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) for almost forty years. Although FESPACO is the most important filmic event on the African continent, its all-encompassing dimension prevents it from focusing on specific aspects of the continent’s filmic production. The proposed documentary film forum to be held in Accra will fill in this major gap through its emphasis on the documentary film form.
Accra is the capital city of a politically stable country with strong economic potential. It hosts numerous international public institutions as well as a vibrant NGO community that contributes to its development. The proliferation of debates in the written press and on radio is evidence that the plurality and free expression of opinions are guaranteed.
The televisual map of the city is shared by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, a national, public television channel and TV Africa, a private channel owned by Kwaw Ansah, one of the main African filmmakers. The presence of South African communication companies offering bouquets of channels and programs from around the world to their subscribers is also of note.
The choice of Ghana is also justified by the fact the country has a long-standing documentary tradition in Africa. Indeed, even prior to independence, the colonial administration used documentary as part of its propaganda machinery in its civic, health and school “education.” Since independence, documentary production has grown steadily and continues to be used in its nation building initiatives.
Ghana was also the first country South of the Sahara to create a film and television school-the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI). The school is an intrinsic element of the West African Documentary Film Forum Indeed, the initiators of the project consider the school a key organizational component of the Forum as well as one of the best locations for screenings and meetings with its 120 seat capacity.
It is common knowledge that the majority of the population in Africa cannot read and write. Illiteracy is still rampant despite tremendous efforts on the part of governments. In such a context, documentary film is an effective means of democratizing access to knowledge. Through documentary, ancient and contemporary history could be taught to the populations in Africa, in their own languages and by their own compatriots. Documentary could help explain complex news programs and items to audiences who might not understand them at first by virtue of their inability to read and write. It enables access to “literacy through visual media”. It could also serve as a medium for visual literacy in our media saturated world. Finally, it could be a means of self-expression, self-actualization and self-realization. Documentary could also be a vehicle of discovery and exploration, of learning through fun and entertainment. As such it could be attractive to the youth, which will be a central focus of the Forum.
Through these various actions of the Forum, the practice of informed citizenship by populations may be reinforced and may contribute to the improvement of democracy. Indeed the more populations have the intellectual ability to effectively exercise their citizenship, the more they will hold their governments accountable to issues of good governance, justice and transparency.
The Forum seeks to contribute to bringing back film, video and digital screenings to theater audiences who had turned toward television in a period where film production is decreasing due to scarce finances, and where film distribution and exhibition are in peril, due to the closure of movie theaters.
Although television remains the main space for documentary exhibition, recent developments in the United States and several European countries have seen documentary increasingly coming back into theaters after the success of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or in 2004. The West African Documentary Forum hopes to contribute to a similar success of the form in Africa.
The unparalleled accessibility of digital technologies is also one of factors favoring documentary filmmaking. Whereas the costs of celluloid productions are ever increasing, the development of the digital technology makes documentary more accessible to greater numbers of people. Through miniaturization, digital technology is a major enabling factor for the development of documentary aesthetics whose main features include mobility and discretion. The tremendous decrease in production costs also contributes to this development.