Management students discuss West African film with American performance artist
New York-born, London-based artist Doug Fishbone was a guest of our School of Management on 16 November when he spoke about his new feature film Elmina. The film tells the story of a small Ghanaian village where oil is discovered and the village chief expects the villagers to sell their land to a large, Chinese multinational.
Elmina is a completely Ghanaian production, with the only artistic intervention being the casting of Doug, a white American artist, as Ato, a Ghanaian villager who leads the resistance against the oil company. No reference is made to this artistic intervention, leaving it up to the audience to interpret its meaning. We are never quite sure who Ato is and this fluidity pervades the film as we constantly question his purpose.
The film, which was shown in a solo exhibition at Tate Britain for three months at the end of 2010, will be launched to the London African cinema community on 16 December 2011 and in Ghana shortly after.
The choice of Elmina by the Ghanaian writers is poignant. The first European settlement in West Africa, it was a major port at the centre of European trade and exploitation of Africa, including slavery.*
As Fishbone says, “film is amazingly conservative, and working across cultural and racial lines makes that much more visible. They (the team in Ghana) are opening markets themselves... (the project) gave them access to places like the Tate and great global press exposure.” The cast are already major Ghanaian celebrities, and the American may even develop a sideline as an actor in Ghanaian films depending how audiences receive this one.
Like his earlier work, the project continues Fishbone's investigation into the relativity of perception and understanding. However, the production process also subverts this conservatism by promoting the film to different audiences and bringing in new sources of funding. The Ghanaian team felt that the film was snubbed at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2010 and suspect they have rattled powerful oil interests. Yet Fishbone's intervention as an artist gives the project the possibility of acclaim elsewhere. Paradoxically, this shows how perception and the production process are intertwined.
PhD students and staff in our School of Management heard Fishbone’s talk and watched the film’s trailer on Wednesday 16 November as part of their regular seminar series. The film will be screened in selected cinemas in the UK and Ghana over the next few months and should be available on DVD shortly after.
Thanks to Neil Lancastle for this report.
*Established by the Portuguese in 1482, Elmina was captured by the Dutch in 1637 and eventually sold to the British, along with the rest of what then called the Gold Coast, in 1872. Ghana achieved independence in 1957.