Film is a cultural diplomacy tool.
Look around you and see all the cultural arms of the various embassies operating in Ghana and in many instances, budgets placed aside by their home countries to support the promotion of the Arts. A number of these embassies may have movie nights; understanding that film is a key cultural diplomacy tool. It offers an opportunity to shape perceptions, to explain issues, to engage foreign cultures and to foster understanding. Even before I ever set foot into the UK or the United States, I had an understanding of what to expect and how to engage with the British or American. I understood that America was powerful, and learnt about the American love for country and life, not necessarily from watching the news, but from watching films like Rambo and die-hard. Films like AirForce-1 left an indelible mark on my brain.
As a key part of their foreign policy engagement, the role of Films and music in underscoring the American global influence for instance, cannot be underrated. Imagine if every Ghanaian embassy around the world had the budget and mandate to purchase and show two Ghanaian films at the embassy every year; as an opportunity to engage, and connect with their environment. Imagine the interest this will create about Ghana. How many people will suddenly plan their holiday time to spend it in Ghana... or maybe explore the opportunity to do business here. Most importantly, imagine what it will do for the local film industry. To qualify your film to be bought, filmmakers may even start to up the quality of their films. The filmmaker whose film is bought will make some money and quickly plan to make another film, thereby employing many young hands desperate for jobs... just imagine what this one policy by the government will achieve.
We hereby call on the government of Ghana and our President, H.E John Dramani Mahama, represented here today by the honorable Deputy ministers of communications, Mr. Ato Sarpong and the honorable deputy minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Dzifa Gomashie, who is herself one of the best products of this industry, and is today serving the government of Ghana. We ask, that the policy be passed that mandates each embassy to show only two Ghanaian films every year... Imagine that!
The Blackstar international film festival is ready to work with the government to enable this process and to help set the standards for the films that get selected.
Film festivals like Sundance and Tribecca film festival, serve as a key connector of the American film culture to the rest of the world. Bringing films from the globe and filmmakers with a story to tell and money to spend, to network, build opportunities and map out the images that will shape the minds of viewers for centuries; Ultimately, enabling trade. People are drawn to places to live and do business by the images they see and what they hear about those countries. The story of our country needs to be told in a systematic way and not just left to news-makers, especially foreign media, who are perhaps, driven foremost, by the level of sensation a story carries, and not the true picture of the reality. When used right, film can jump-start interest in a country's story and thereby draw both visitors for Tourism and for business. Understanding this, other African countries are way ahead in the game. South Africa for instance, has 11 film treaties with 11 countries... but check this, not one with an African country... Why is this?
South Africa is aggressively selling itself through the film festival circuit. The Durban film festival is highly respected and recently, other film festivals like Rapidlion have been launched. South Africa has already captured a key film market like Discop, which was run unsuccessfully in Ghana for just one year. On my last visit to Discop, I was courted by various executives from the different provinces in South Africa. Each executive fighting to have filmmakers make films with their local producers. Imagine such competition, even within country. The driver of this initiative off course, is their government.
Today, South Africa has some very interesting film policies. For instance, if you shoot at a certain budget, co-producing with a South African and shoot a certain percentage of the film in South Africa, you are refunded about 50% of your total budget by the government. My response to this? is wow, wow wow! Imagine that!
A typical film may employ in the space of a few months, hundreds of people from very high skill levels to low skill levels and skills sets from across the spectrum. From Accountants, to designers to artists, to writers, the list goes on, creating critical employment. A typical production may also make purchases that run into thousands of dollars. The story is even sweeter when foreign collaborations happen, for then there is a lot of skills transfers and foreign currency inflows. Talk about low hanging fruits... in our quest to find jobs for the many young people that are still looking to find the Ghanaian dream.
The Black international film festival idea, was birth in October 2015... As I have been promoting the Blackstar international film festival, several things have stood out to me. This is the time for Ghana to get in the global race to capture the best in film, to showcase itself through cinema, but most importantly, to be at the forefront of the conversation about the role of cinema in shaping the mind of a people. Our first President, Dr. Nkrumah perhaps had carried a secret in his heart to his deathbed - that the emancipation of the African mind will ride through town, on the back of the horse of Cinema, carrying the sword of self knowledge. It is with this insight that he built one of the first film labs and film studio in Africa. The National Film and television Institute, was later built to help feed this opportunity.
Who we are, what we hope to become and what we would truly become, all lie in the 'mirror mirror' of our Cinema. Cinema after all is the imitation, the reflection, and in many instances, a soothsayer to life.
It is time to have a conversation, it is time to connect, it is time to do business...
Finally we arrive to welcome the rest of Africa, and we invite the world to join us to explore what it truly means to tell a story, to tell an African story, to listen to the world tell its story and to truly appreciate that at the end of the day, we are all telling one story - The human story...
Keep in mind that submissions open in March. Go to our site or facebook page and follow the link to filmFreeWay, our submissions partner and submit your film. The festival is in August. I will also take the opportunity to call on all stakeholders, filmmakers and their guilds, distributors, interested organizations, the corporates, to all add your voices to ours. We need you to make this work. If you are a corporate, you should take advantage of the platform that we offer you. visit www.blackstarinternationalfilmfestival.org to learn more and submit your film
Get ready for a journey whose final destination, you can't even begin to imagine; but be assured that you will like it... Enjoy the ride.