It was Kwaw Ansah’s reply to Graphic Showbiz editor’s note of scepticism that arrested my attention. “M’ewuraba” (my lady), he said, “in our long struggle, we have never been this way before; never come this far.”
Adwoa Serwaa Bonsu was trying to remind the legendary film maker that until the President of the Republic signed the recently passed Film Bill, that document remained what it was (is) - only a Bill.
Seated across from her, however, I appreciated where Uncle Kwaw was coming from. In those days of yore, i.e. the late 1970s, the cry had been for a Film Finance Fund. A few years before Kwaw Ansah went wild on the issue, Mr Sam Aryeetey (RIP), Managing Director of the erstwhile Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) had, in two interviews with yours truly (published in the Ghanaian Times newspaper) and on various public platforms, championed the cause.
Then Kwaw Ansah released ‘Love Brewed’ and the advocacy received more fuel. The whisper became a shout. Uncle Kwaw had just mortgaged his building to fund the making of this international award winner. This was around 1979. Ten years later, matters got worse.Funds released by a consortium of banks for the making of ‘Heritage Africa’ dried up during post-production at the Rank Laboratories in London. The stress took a toll on his health and Kwaw Ansah ended up in a London hospital.
The video boom brought its own set of worries over issues with quality of productions, lack of professionalism, watery plots and misrepresentation of Ghanaian culture in films, what with the over-emphasis on witchcraft and the bashing of wives and house-helps. These issues broadened the scope and shrillness of the advocacy.
It was, however, not until Nigerian movies became a threat when our TV stations started screening illegally imported films from that country, and when foreigners walked into Ghana on Monday and started shooting films on Tuesday, that the scream became a search for a Film Law. New champions appeared on the block. Mention David Dontoh, Idikoko, Socrate Safo, Abeiku Sagoe, etc.
The government finally listened. Thus, was it that in 2004, Ghanaian film makers popped champagne when the government sent the Film Bill to Parliament. The expectation was that in a year, two years at the most, there would be a law to regulate the industry. Apparently, the film makers had not anticipated an animal that moved slower than a snail! In the then oversight Ministry of Information, the film makers’ struggle had no shortage of sympathy from successive ministers, but even they, as ministers, came against a stone wall in the painfully snail-paced process in Parliament.
I remembered Mrs Oboshie Sai-Cofie sink like lead into her chair in her office on that day, sometime in 2007, when after years of back-and forth, the Bill was referred back to her ministry from Parliament.
With the change of government came John Akologo Tia. As a member of paliament (MP) himself who tracked every process of the Bill in his capacity as Minister of Information, he bubbled with so much confidence that whenever he had occasion to address film makers, he released a promise that “the Film Bill will soon be passed by Parliament”. Years later, in a television interview, Akologo Tia finally promised that he would no longer promise.
The struggle continued
In 2015, the current Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, began her own war. She became a regular and familiar “foreigner” at meetings of the Parliamentary Select Committee so much that one MP is said to have wondered whether the Bill was for her father!
Today, in November 2016, “at loonnng last”, the ‘Development and Classification of Film Bill, 2016’ has been passed! At a stakeholder forum last week at which the minister made the glorious announcement, however, the unspoken question on the minds of everybody who was smiling with her was: “When will this bill become law?” In other words, they were asking: “When will President Mahama sign the bill into law?”
The question is not if Prez Mahama will sign. It is, when? They wonder at what point in the fiercely raging electioneering, the President will find the time to sit to even read the bill.
These fears are not shared by the sector minister. Mrs Adjare is sure to get that signature!
While we wait for the President’s signature, however, here are a few thoughts on the bill. The establishment of the Film Fund is a dream come true. But the bill is silent on one sure source for the fund, namely seed money by the government. I can bet my bottom cedi that without a government seed capital, the fund will dehydrate, suffer and die from anaemia.
Regarding Classification, I wonder if the 30 days a film is supposed to be in the custody of the Classification Committee is not a potential recipe for frustrating delays. Soon, the committee’s film bank will be choked with DVDs. My proposal: let us decentralise the censorship and classification process.
One of the powers of the committee is to excise pornographic scenes or reject, outright films which are deemed pornographic. In the mid-1980s, I was a member of the Cinematographic Board of Control, and I cannot begin to narrate scenes of rising anger, suspicions and hair-splitting whenever the issue was pornography. Whose definition or concepts of pornography will hold?
Will such thorns be removed by the much envisaged Legislative Instruments (LI)? Without the LAW, there can be no LI. So when is the law coming?