House Girl – A Film by Koby Adom on The Plight of Domestic Workers

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I recently linked up with Ghanaian filmmaker Koby Adom to learn more about his new project, House Girl, a short film dedicated to telling the story of the plight of young domestic workers in Ghana. I think we do not discuss the topic at all enough in Ghana and hence silently agree to, at times, terrible conditions for our country women.

When did you decide to make a film about house girls and why?

My mother and I are always having very long conversations about our life experiences and she is very open with me. A few years ago, she shared a story with me of when she witnessed the brutality inflicted on a house girl over a period of time while still living in Ghana in her younger years. It was happening in one of her friend’s houses by her friend’s mother. Being very articulate, my mum’s very detailed description of the events started sparking clear images of what it would be like in my head. These thoughts were chilling and gave me goosebumps and I wondered if any such thing would happen in contemporary Ghana so I researched it.Screenshot 2016-01-10 20.02.31

I have always remembered the story till this day and I went back to ask my mother more questions on occasion because it was hard to wrap my head around it. Being raised in London, there were certain things I was oblivious to so parts of the story just didn’t add up or make sense to me.

So when the end of my film school education was approaching, I decided to explore this story further for my graduation film. I was also very out of touch with Ghana and wanted to be reconnected with it so this was the perfect opportunity to explore that too; through film.

 

What is known about the issue? What is yet to be documented?

Having lived in Accra for just over a year when I was a child (1996-1998), I remember house girls/ house boys as the norm. However, my perception of that role in the house hold was positive because of the person who helped my family back then. She was like my older sister or a cool young aunty who helped out. My mum treated her like she would treat my siblings and I, but with a lot more respect – My mum still speaks very fondly of her now calling her ‘an angel’ because she took a lot of pressure off my mum’s shoulders at a time when it was most needed.
Furthermore, I visited Ghana in August 2015 and stayed Screenshot 2016-01-10 20.05.22with family I have in Accra. My family members treated their domestic workers with total respect, so I was still in the dark as to what would cause anybody to treat a human being like that. So I did some research on it to find out if such brutalities still happen in Ghana and was pretty upset with what I found: an article by Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi on www.modernghana.com entitled Corpses Have More Respect Than House Maids. This was a Ghanaian website, speaking about Ghana. It wasn’t an outside perspective. Adu-Gyamfi also mentions it is an issue which is hardly talked about, because of the cultural history behind it. That is one of the reasons why I decided to write a script about house girls; To shine light on a situation which can spark a conversation so action can be taken to reduce, if not eradicate such practices in Ghana and Africa as a whole.

Adu-Gyamfi’s article was bold, but I believe there should be a lot more Ghanaian media outlets starting the conversation about the issue. By taking responsibility of the problem, African countries can avoid negative perceptions from abroad, which also prevents outsiders coming in to try and solve the problem.

What is your goal with the film, what do you hope to achieve?

I have two main goals with this film: Firstly, I want to make a fantastic film about something serious to further my career as a filmmaker. At this stage of our careers, young student filmmakers don’t usually make short films to sell or make money. At this stage we are focused on finding an audience for our art to further our careers. The best thing about the London Film School is that we are taught very rigidly how to make films in a tough but effective two-year Masters program. As a result, we come out the other end knowing how to make films without thinking too much about it. This now gives us the opportunity to focus on our art and craft. Adding magical things to a film which we figure out ourselves. I am using this film to tell a story which needs to be told in a magical way do get my point across – We aim to enter this film into film festivals globally to get a wide audience for it and eventually release it online for even more people to see.

Secondly, I want people in the western world to know more about Ghana and how far it has come as a nation. In the same breath I want Ghanaians to know that there are issues that still need to be resolved internally and I want to encourage them to do so. I want this film to show Ghana in all it’s glory but also show everybody one area which needs fixing; focusing more on human rights for everybody within it’s borders. Whether it is in established cities like Accra or villages outside of the major cities.

 

Promo picHow do you make sure you: an educated male living abroad gets it right?

 I am so happy you asked me this question because I worried about this for a long time. However, like I said I asked my mother a lot of questions as well as my family who live in Accra. They have all been very helpful in helping me shape the narrative of this story from a cultural stand point.

Also my personal tutor at film school put me in touch with Erik Knudsen, an experienced Danish-Ghanaian filmmaker who had previously made films in Ghana. He was very easy to speak to and was in a similar position to myself; being Ghanaian by parentage but could still be considered an outsider. Erik read one of the drafts of my script and helped me to think further into the culture of Ghana. He advised me to visit Ghana and learn how things work for myself rather than rely on the memory I have of it from 1998 and stories from others which weren’t my own experiences. This was fantastic advice, because I could really take in the spirit of the nation by going there.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 19.51.59I also speak to my peers in the UK who also have African heritage (There are loads of us! Especially in London). We are all in the same position in terms of our knowledge of our respective motherland. One friend in particular, who is an actress shared an account of when her parents flew over a domestic worker from Nigeria to London and the brutalities happened here! I knew this existed, but I was horrified that people so close to me had actually seen and been through what my mother had told me. That is what really cemented my desire to make a film on this topic. I am big on human rights so something needs to be said about it.

I’m imagining filmmaking to be incredibly hard, tedious and expensive. Tell us of a moment in your filmmaking career that made it all worth it. 

ClosureWhile making my last short film ‘Closure’, I experienced the hardships that you mentioned. I didn’t sleep much because of everything that needed to be done. Once the film was financed, made and screened, I felt a great sense of pride from everything that came from it. I sent the film to a load of industry contacts and film magazines/ bloggers and the response was over-whelming. I got some good feed back from executives at big production and distribution companies like Lionsgate, Sky Movies, Warner Brothers and TWC. I also featured in an article on Indiewire, which is a huge online independent film magazine. This got me a lot of important contacts in this industry.

I also held a private screening for this film and over 350 people turned up to watch it and listen to our question and answer session. After all the hard work, it is great to know that people have appreciated your efforts and that people were affected/ influenced by the film. There is no better feeling than that and it makes all the hard work and challenges faced worth it.

Furthermore, I made a short documentary called ‘Deborah’s Letter’, which is about my little sister who was born with Spina Bifida and is in a wheel chair as a result. The film won the audience favourite award at the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival in Austin, Texas. I also received a lovely message from the festival director that the film touched the entire audience. These are the moments filmmakers live for. To know that we have put something from our head to the screen and it has had an impact on others. It is an amazing feeling.

Finally, any word of advise for young creatives?

Screenshot 2016-01-10 19.54.02If you want to do something LEARN it! Take the time, money and effort and invest it into your craft. Be patient. A lot of people want instant gratification and I was one of them. I have learnt that working hard and learning the industry and the craft will take me so much further than if I went diving head first with no knowledge. Nothing wrong with diving but don’t do it with no idea of what you are about to fall into. Knowledge is power.

Secondly, just be bold. Don’t be discouraged to do something because nobody has done it before. The way I see it, that thing hasn’t been done before because God has left it vacant for YOU. Everybody who is important in the world today did something that logic would have discouraged. Listen to people but you don’t have to follow them. Listen to why they say you shouldn’t do it and use it as research to figure how you are going to do it. BE BOLD!

You can support the HouseGirl film on KickStarter and follow it of Facebook and Twitter for updates.

 

 

African Online TV-Series: The Samaritans, An African City and more

With the advancement of broadband on the continent, we are now witnessing a cultural explosion when it comes to online video. On my list to watch (if dumsor will not take my Internet and computer battery away) are the following:

1. The Samaritans (Aid for Aid)

I am excited about this series as it targets an important sector in Africa that potentially is also a very funny sector – the ingenious  non-governmental sector full of strategy plans and targets that confuse all of us… Their website promises:

“The Samaritans is a new comedy TV series from Kenya, about an NGO (Non-Governmental organization), that does nothing.”

See the trailer here:


2. An African City

Out of Ghana, I am proud to say, the series An African City has caused ripple effects online with its 15 minute episodes, but I am still outside of the hype (16 000 people have watched the first episode) as I have sadly not had the time to watch it yet. It seems to be Sex And The City like with a short blurb from the FB page of the series suggesting it is about:

“Five beautiful, successful African females return to their home continent and confide in one another about love and life in ‘An African City’!


On a website called Reel African one can also see on demand already popular TV-series like Adam’s Apples and many more.  Where the first series discussed above has chased a pay-to-view system, An African City is pre-financed and free for the viewer and available on YouTube. Maybe when I have watched the first few episodes, I can find out from the creators how the two cost-recovery models are working.  I am however sure, the online medium will create new opportunities for the creative economy.

These are in conclusion very interesting times for online creativity on the continent. I wonder what is next for African Online TV!

If you know of more African online shows, please send your tips my way!

Ghana’s Creative Economy and Its Challenges

Last month, I was moderating a talk on the Creative Economy in Ghana for the Adventurers in the Diaspora series follow them on Facebook to never miss their events!). What is the creative economy anyway? I did some research before accepting the job and came across a very inspiring 400 page report made in 2010 by the United Nation’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) PDF here.

Some highlights of the report, in my opinion, were its case studies including Nigeria’s Nollywood and the Africa Remix exhibit.

The report also offered 10 key messages for policy makers:

  • Whilst in 2008 there was a 12% reduction in world trade, exports of creative goods and services continue to grow at an average annual rate of 14% over the past 6 years, with the potential to become one of the most dynamic sectors of the world economy.
  • Growth is particularly apparent in ‘south-south’ trade: trade in creative good and services there grew at an average rate of 20% per annum over the same period, and the creative economy took an increasing market share of south-south trade.
  • The right mix of public policies and strategic choices are essential if the potential of the creative economy for economic development is to be achieved.  It is important, especially in developing countries, to develop a functioning ‘creative nexus’ to attract investors, build creative entrepreurial practices, and offer better IT access and infrastructure.
  • Policy strategies must recognise its multi-displinary nature – its economic, social, cultural and environmental linkages.
  • It is important for governments to review IP rules to avoid constraints and adapt to new realities.
  • The creative economy cuts across arts, business and connectivity, driving innovation and new business models. There should be a drive for better broadband infrastructure especially in the South. (my highlight)
  • The creative economy is both fragmented and socially inclusive. Pragmatic policy-making requires a better understanding of who the stakeholders in the creative economy are, how they relate to one another and how the creative sector relates to other economic sectors.
  • Policies for the creative economy also have to respond to demands from local communities for education, cultural identity and social inclusion, and environmental concerns.  An increasing number of municipalities are using the concept of creative cities to formulate urban development strategies and reinvigorate growth.
  • The firmness of the market for creative goods and services is an indicator of the importance of demand for ‘creative products’  in the post recession era, and should attract greater market share.
  • Every society is rooted in a creative economy, but each country is different, and needs to think about its particular strengths for development.  There is no one-size-fits-all policy.

The panelists Korkor Amartefio, Cultural practitioner, Dzifa Gomashie, Deputy Minister Nominee for Tourism, Culture and Arts, Odile Tevie, Nubuke Foundation and Zagba Oyortey, new director of  the Ghana National Museum, framed some issues for Ghana:

1. Little data

We do not know the size of the creative economy in Ghana. Not how much the arts market is worth, how much beads and traditional crafts add to GDP or what the growth of the music industry is. Room for much research! With this type of data, we could canvass for more of number two on this list!

2. Little Government support

Apparently, government has not yet discovered the creative economy as a potential future gold mine. It seems, we are to busy with galamsay small scale gold miners, maybe…MUSIGA ha sbeen supported with a house, we have national centers of culture around the country, but apart from those structures (of which some seem to be falling apart), government is not surrounding itself with Ghanaian culture, promoting Ghanaian artists on their travels nor collecting Ghanaian art.

3. Lack of cooperation/information

From the discussion, a problem can be to find a space for an event. A suggestion was made to create a list of possible venues, their cost and availability for cultural practitioners to use. At a different event last week about marketing for cultural organizations, the lack of information was again highlighted. Organizations need training on how to sell themselves, but also structures for promotion and information sharing.

4. Education

The creative economy is much related to education, however the UNCTAD report itself does not really make the connection as noted by Pascal. In Ghana, creativity is not necessarily celebrated and on all levels of the economy we can see the effects of the lack of creativity. All from the 10th person selling the same food stuff in the same place to the bank that does not brand itself for any particular customer group or the CEO who never promotes creativity.

5. Money for enforcement of new laws

Since last year, Ghana has a new set on Intellectual Property laws (remember the “kenta” shoe?). That is great, but how do we make sure those laws are enforced?

The cure for it all is ENGAGEMENT. I was happy when the National Museum’s Mr Oyortey mentioned this in his very first contribution for the evening. The institutions need to engage with their audience and their counterparts, we the public need to attend events, buy art and let the creative economy make all our lives more sustainable and more fun!

Photos by Naa Oyoo Quartey/Ganyobinaa.

Kantamanto Market Burns Down Again and the Aga Khan Award

On Sunday, we were reached by the news that the Kantamanto Market in central Accra was on fire. Horrible pictures of the event on CitiFMonline. Luckily the day had just started and no casualties were reported. While politicians come and walk the now ashen site, market women cry out in grief over lost livelihoods and journalists try to count the number of market fires we have had in recent years,  the opportunity here is to think of how we want to build and maintain a market.

I suggest we take a look at Aga Khan Architecture Awards (AKAA) for market construction. Amazing, beautiful and functional markets have been built before!

Central Market in Koudougou, Burkina Faso

market

“Koudougou’s central market combines a covered hall with space for 624 stalls with a further 125 buildings containing 1’195 shop units, the vast majority of them small spaces of only 6.20 square metres. By virtue of its size, the project provided an important training ground for local masons. The market buildings are made almost exclusively of a local material – compressed earth blocks – using traditional Nubian techniques of arch and vault construction. Such self-sufficiency was deemed particularly desirable in light of the increasing costs of imported materials.”

 

 

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All pics from AKAA. Read more about the Central Market here

What I love about this market, apart from it being built by fireproof materials, is the beauty and light…Can we not build things that are pleasing to the eye and built to last?

Last week, the finalists for the 2013 Aga Khan Architecture Award  were released.

EVENT Adventurers in the Diaspora: Ghana’s Creative Economy

Come see me moderate a panel on Ghana’s Creative Economy with some distinguished guests this Thursday.

25 April, 2013

7.30 PM

Golden Tulip Hotel, downstairs in the Branch restaurant

 

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I am excited about the topic and accepted to moderate the discussion as I feel I have some small understanding of it, as I love culture and creativity! Although I was a little bit worried about discussing ways forward with the deputy minister and some heavy weights in Ghana’s cultural life like Korkor Amartefio and Odile Tevie as my comfort zone is maybe is more in the alternative arts and online part of the creative economy of Ghana. Well, organizer’s AiD (follow them on FAcebook to never mss their events!) seem to still have confidence in me and if for nothing else, I hope to unveil some new directions from the new director of  the Ghana National Museum,  Zagba Oyortey.

See you Thursday eve!

Manifest and Efya’s New Music Video “Asa”

“Asa” means “dance” in Twi. Manifest is one of the most interesting artists in Ghana (and the grandson of acclaimed Africanist Prof. Nketsia, I recently found out from the grandfather himself at a book launch last month!). Efya is a lovely vocalist and the two compliment each other very well.

Really, art is what makes life worth living! After a heavy week, I am welcoming this trip into the world of clapping, rhythms and Ghanaian dance. Medawoase!

Procrastination Day

This is what my day has been like today,but involving a vaccination appointment with my daughter instead of a squeaky chair and a salad lunch instead of whatever was in this brilliant little film. Now I need to go to get some stuff done. Really.

Friends of the National Museum in Ghana

Photo: Kajsa Hallberg Adu

As part of the nation building of the infant national state of Ghana in the late 1950s, Kwame Nkrumah planned for a museum park in central Accra.

None of the museums were completed, but the National Museum moved into the museum auditorium and has since been open for visitors. I wrote an article about the museum in in 2008 for a museum news letter in Sweden.

On Thursday 29 March 2012, a new era starts for the museum as this month’s Adventurers in the Diaspora (AiD) event takes place at the national museum in Accra and inaugurates a support organization, Friends of the National Museum.

The aim of the non-profit is:

“to support the work of the Museum and provide a platform for the museum to engage with the artistic community, benefactors and the general public in a positive, economically viable and purposeful way.”

Friends of the National Museum write on their website that all are invited at 7.30 PM for the launch of the organization and a discussion on why heritage matters.

See you there!

Gbaa Mi Sané – Ghana Documentary in the Making

A few weeks back, I got a shout-out from AccraDOTAlt / the organizers of the initiative TalkParti (that I have posted on here and here) to back the documentary they are making. Using a website called Kickstarter, they ask for people like you and me to donate money for a documentary film.

Gbaa mi sané means “talk to me” in local language Ga. According to the AccraDOTAlt Kickstarter site:

“the aim of this documentary project is three-fold: 1) to document a youthful Accra, bold and cool enough to pull taboo subjects wide open 2) to get personal with young Ghanaians about their experiences on the margins of these subjects – as a lesbian woman, or a transgendered man, or a happy atheist, or a struggling artist in Ghana and 3) to exhibit the pulsating spirit of the indie music scene – the backbeat of Accra – through captivating performances and interviews with featured musicians.”

As I have been to many of these TalkParti events and experienced the uniquely creative and open atmosphere, today I was glad to donate USD 25. Although I find the aims of the documentary important and worthwhile, I have a slightly more personal reason for supporting the project. I want to show that documentary to my kids and say “Mommy was there when it all started!”

Do you think its important to document your surroundings?

(and if you by any chance also want to make sure this documentary is made, go to the Kickstarter page and follow the instructions, still one week to go before the opportunity to pledge is closed )

UPDATE: The project is now fully funded. Congrats to all of us and time to get to work, AccraDOTAlt!

Swedish Society and Culture Lecture

Tomorrow I am lecturing on “Swedish Society and Culture” at Malmö University.

It is a topic I should know very well. I am a product of it. I studied Political Science with a focus on Scandinavia/comparative politics. In addition, it is a presentation that I have given earlier to students in Ghana (with good help from the Swedish Institute).

But maybe what makes me most suited to talk on this topic is that I have lived outside of Sweden for a majority of the last 10 years of my life. I think experiencing other societies (US, France and Ghana in my case) makes the specificities of Swedish society stand out more clearly. Also, living abroad makes you – or at least it has made me – an ambassador of my country. I find myself describing the Swedish model (defending the high taxes), explaining why Swedes are thought – see pic – to be overtly sexual (a myth stemming from artsy Swedish films in the 1950s) and displaying Swedish traditions and joie-de-vivre (disproving that Swedes would be extremely suicidal because of the darkness up north).

Tomorrow I will do it again. Wish me luck!

PS. My blog being messed up means that I have not felt inspired to post lately. Sorry to anyone who still follows this space! I think I will just keep posting and worry about the look when I have time. Update: It is now fixed!

Picture borrowed from the Swedish Bikini Team.

My Experience of 9/11 2001 in the US (and a Book)

Book cover for "Life After Sept 11th, 10 stories from New York" by Marianne Lentz

Some time ago, my Rotary Scholarship mate from my year in the US, got in touch. We met in 2001 at Reinhardt College in Georgia, US. She is now a journalist and was doing research for a book about the aftermath of September 11th 2001. She wanted me to tell her what I remembered from that day. This is the text I sent her:

“I woke up in my dorm room in the morning of 9/11. It was an ordinary day and after taking a shower I reviewed my Spanish homework. As I was sitting on my bed doing that, I suddenly hear my roommate Michele screaming and run over to her. She has the TV on and screams as she points to the set. As we are watching we see the smoke coming out from the first of the two World Trade Center towers and a distraught speaker voice talks about a second plane and we watch in amazement as that plane hits the second tower.

She has already her phone in hand and calls her mother in Uruguay and hostfamily – the hostfather works in the WTC…I run back into my room as I hear my phone ring, its my hostdad. I dont remember if he is trying to calm me or himself down, but  he is letting me know he believes “it is Bin Laden who is behind all this”. It is the first time I hear the name.

Before I am off to class, the news reaches us that also Pentagon in Washington DC has been hit. As I have a friend living in DC, I want to hear she’s alright. I phone her, but cannot get through. A few moments later the news presenters on TV urges the public to stop calling friends and relatives to allow for the phone lines to be used by emergency workers. I feel pretty stupid.

In Spanish class, we talk about what happened and in a later class we stand in a circle holding hands in silence. I channel my confusion and sadness over the events by walking around campus taking pictures of the nature. (I can look for the pics if you think they would be interesting for you, but I dont think thery were very special) During the day, we realize that also Atlanta, a mere 45 minutes away, and its headquarters for CNN and Center of Disease Control are possible targets. The threat creeps closer.

Already the same afternoon, American flags are hanging out from many windows. Over the next weeks, we will fear that our drinking water has been poisoned, that antrax can be sent to our mailboxes and that the terror can strike at any time again. At this time, I had spent only one month in the US, but could still clearly feel that this day had changed everything.”

Today Marianne Lentz’s book is out. It ended up being an interview book with 10 New Yorkers, their memories of that dreadful day and how it impacted on their lives. It’s currently only available in her native Danish, but hopefully soon in English too. I’m proud of you, Marianne!

Chale Wote Street Festival in Ghana

At the same time as I am waiting for my life to change here in Sweden, creative friends of mine in Accra under the umbrella “ACCRAdotAlt” (find them here on Facebook) have organized the “Chale Wote Street Festival“.

Chale Wote is the Ghanaian name for the cheap flip-flop that clad many Ghanaian feet. However, the festival was all other than cheap. From the pictures I have seen so far – the best ones you find with Nana Kofi Acquah (like the smashing pic above),  the festival was a meeting opportunity for creative souls like musicians, designers, artists and the local community of James Town in Accra with a beautiful and rich result.

I love events like these as they bring meaning, activity  and fun to peoples’ lives where there before was just business as usual.

UPDATE: See also the festival covered by fellow bloggers Graham, Jemila and Holli.