Ghanaian Video Tales

Ghanaian Video Tales

Directed by Tobias Wendl

Ghanaian cinema has become more know worldwide, but where it comes from and how it is made is still a big mystery. Ghanaian Video Tales helps bring up information on the beginnings of the 80s video boom, and the producers and directors who helped make it happen and their involvement in film through 2001. Ghanaian Video Tales is most interested in the horror films coming out of Ghana, the interviews and clips are all geared in that direction. The influence of the church is mentioned, but as far as anyone who watches this knows, every film that comes out of Ghana is a horror film. We know that isn’t true, so there are still stories to be told.

The documentary goes over some of the more famous bits of Ghanaian film, from the hand painted movie posters to the vhs tape distribution to buildings packed with kids watching films off of a vcr. There is talk of growing up going to Accra cinemas (which played mostly Indian and kung fu films) and how those stories helped influence the types of stories the directors want to tell themselves.

But first, a Director/Producer Roll Call!

Richard Quartey
Producer and Director, and special effects and makeup guy who is very enthusiastic about his makeup effects and making films in general. Well read, especially horror books or reference of the occult. Some of the best parts are him showing off his book collection, including Sir Rider Haggard’s She Who Must Be Obeyed, an Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, many other books about the Devil (including Billy Graham’s!), and a Halloween makeup book that is used as a makeup inspiration for actual Ghanaian horror films. He entered the video industry back in the 80s, and likes writing dark stories with Jesus salvations.
Socrate Safo
Producer and Director, gives the most inspired comments about the video industry, but is one of the least featured directors. Which is a shame, considering how his name keeps popping up as a character in all the research I do on Ghanaian film.
William Akuffo
Producer and director, it was his idea to shoot on video and edit with two film decks in the beginning of Ghanaian film. Does witchcraft and juju money films even though he doesn’t believe in them, because those films sell.
Bob Smith Jr
Producer, director, writer, actor. Originally a star of films, became well known as the star of the Diabolo horror film series. Was illegally working in Holland and thrown in jail where he wrote Diabolo 3 script. Is often compared to Christopher Lee in Ghanaian media. Stars in his own productions more often than the other producer/directors. Some people think he actually can turn into snakes like his Diabolo character.
Ashiagbor Akwetey Kanyi
producer and director who isn’t featured much in the documentary, but wants to bring more modern special effects to Ghanaian films

These first generation directors helped invent the Ghanaian film industry during the video boom of the 80s and 90s. They had no film school, and their oldest films were shot on vhs tape and edited with two vcrs. They had technical problems a gogo, and had to learn everything from scratch. Over time things have improved, and even our reviews of Abro Ne Bayie 1 and 2 show a marked improvement in quality. Despite the 2004/2005 date on the documentary, it is apparent most of it was filmed around 2000, and the industry have evolved considerably since then. The switch to digital distribution via vcds and dvds happened post-documentary, as did some of the outside Ghana companies becoming larger and exporting overseas to Europe and America.

Some of the best parts of the documentary are the scenes of tape manufacturing, the tapes of the films are made from recycled tapes cut to length and dubbed multiple at a time, produce 2050-2100 tapes a day, which are distributed to shops in the markets. The marketers have seen their theater profits sink from 100% of the proceeds to 0.5% thanks to the proliferation of television, so they have to earn their money from the tape sales (the tvs everywhere also mean there are vcrs everywhere!) At the time of filming, the current sales gimmick is called the float – which involves a truck driving through the city at slow speeds with a band playing while sellers of the tapes walk alongside it and sell tapes to customers. These scenes are mixed with heartbreaking shots of some of the poverty stricken neighborhoods (the joyous party music on the float creating an odd contrast.)

Other neat parts are the other slice of life segments that detail different parts of film production. The painting of the famous hand-painted movie posters. Bob Smith Jr attempting to film scenes in busy streets and being forced to wait as his actors are mobbed. The lack of trained actors in Ghana necessitating the opening of a Film Acting School by some of the producers. The rudimentary attempts are more modern special effects for spellcasting and other visual magic on screen to compete with slicker Nigerian productions. We’re behind the curtain and see the blood and guts of the Ghanaian films industry.

Because the documentary focuses more on the horror films, there are some reoccurring themes and things that need explanation. The horror aspect is often countered or contrasted by religious preaching of salvation, thanks to the strong Pentecostal influence on the Ghanaian film industry. Many of the directors are religious and openly speak about adding Christian themes. They also mention that the Pastors with the biggest congregations are the ones that preach about witchcraft the most, so they just give the public what they want. The horror films attempt to show the dark side, while we’re reassured that a light side exists. Want for money, power, and fame lead to destruction. Multiple directors mention that as soon as you have money, women magically appear. But unfaithful husbands and womanizers get punished as well. We also get introduced to the concept of Blood Money, which is slang for dirty money, or money procured by means where people were injured and killed. Beyond the crime aspect, the horror films usually portray it as magic money from dark forces that come from wounds or is vomited up. It is often gotten due to sacrificing relatives or committing other sins, and the procurer pays dearly for his wealth increase.

Films featured include:
Babina – 2000
Produced and directed by Ashiagbor Akwetey Kanyi
Features flying giants, and is one of Kanyi’s attempts to improve on special effects. In the story, Babina’s son is ordered to be sacrificed, but is protected by holy spirits, so Babina must make him able to be sacrificed or die herself.

Black is Black – Mamamia 3
Directed by Bob Smith, Jr
Bob Smith plays a rich foreigner who comes to Ghana with a limo to score with ladies. Problems ensue.

Bukom Lion – year unknown
Richard Quartey mentions that this film features a mummy. Possibly the first Ghanaian mummy movie.

Double Trouble – Mamamia 2 – 1998
Produced and directed by Bob Smith, Jr
A man is about to go overseas when his mother reveals she is a witch and that his soul is to be sacrificed. But in his place, she will give her right arm instead, and makes him cut it off. She then dies, and the man has to deal with the angry witches.

Diabolo – 1991
Produced and directed by William Akuffo
Bob Smith, Jr stars as Diabolo, a guy who transforms into a snake and enters private parts of women, who then vomit up blood money for him. It was inspired by American Werewolf in London, but Ghanaianized. Bob Smith Jr is forever associated with Diabolo. Originally Diabolo got away with his crimes, but audiences were mad, so they quickly filmed an ending where Diabolo was set on fire.

Diabolo 3 – The Beginning – 1994
Directed by by William Akuffo
Produced by William Akuffo and Bob Smith, Jr
An origin film for Diabolo, which also features a foreign woman as one of the targets, and she vomits up foreign currency. Diabolo is the son of a prostitute who makes a deal with a jujuman, but the deal goes bad when Diabolo accidentally eats magic food.

The Dooms Day – year unknown
No information beyond a poster

Easy Blood Money – Abaddon 2 – 1997
Produced and directed by Richard Quartey
A man goes to jujuman for blood money, and becomes rich overnight as his wife is forced to produce the blood money. He locks her up and goes to party with other women, which works out fine for him until he’s forced to pay up and the demon Abaddon comes to collect the man’s soul.

Judgement Day – The Prince of Doom 2 – 1997
Produced and directed by Bob Smith Jr.
Another snake transformation film that also features revenge from beyond the grave.

Satan’s Wife – 2000
Produced and directed by Socrate Safo
About a daughter who gets married and is pregnant despite still being a virgin. She discovers that she was conceived when her mom visited and witch and was given an egg to eat. The daughter is one of Satan’s 99 wives and cannot marry.

Shout at the Devil – 2000
Directed by Bob Smith Jr
The nephew of rich Ghanaian man comes to help run his business after the man falls ill, but instead spends the money on women. Featuring Ghanaian actress Adwoa Smart (a famous little person) and star Wakye (alias Dr. Nana Rokoto)

Walomba – year unknown
No information beyond a poster

Zinabu – 2000
Produced and directed by William Akuffo and Richard Quartey
A remake of 1987 original, one of the first popular horror films from Ghana. The female Zinabu is like mogwai and has just 2 rules:
1- don’t have an affair with any woman
2- don’t have an affair with Zinabu, either
Yep, no sex. But you get lots of money and power and fame. Which is bad, because when you’re rich, women come to you! Then Zinabu gets mad.

Rated 5/10 (logo, seller, Christopher Lee, poster, poster)

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!