India has its Bollywood and Nigeria, Nollywood. Even New Zealand has a Wellywood.
In Ghana, films made in Kumasi and the surrounding region go by a similar shorthand — Kumawood.
The cultural heart of Ghana is about five hours’ drive from the more cosmopolitan coastal capital, Accra, and it was rivalry between the two that played a key role in developing Kumasi’s burgeoning film industry.
Smarting from a jibe nearly a decade ago, Kumawood defiantly built itself up after a teasing by Accra-based counterparts about not being real filmmakers, producer James Aboagye said.
“At that time, the only producer in Kumasi here said that if this is the way they are treating us, then we will stay in Kumasi and create Kumawood,” he said.
So it did, with some success. Four years ago, it was not unusual for Kumawood to churn out up to 12 films per week, on a shoestring budget of only 30,000 cedi to 50,000 cedi (US$6,860 to US$11,440) each.
That included the filming, as well as the cost of releasing the movie and the production of the DVDs.
However, power shortages cut that back to a more modest four — still an astonishing figure considering the months, if not years, it takes to make some Hollywood blockbusters.
Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to the country’s most-revered royal family.
Films are shot on location around the central city and the surrounding area. Dialogue is in Twi — an Akan dialect spoken by most Ghanaians — and is often unscripted.
Crews shooting a feature-length film within a week can be on-set from first light until midnight, Aboagye said.
“When you come to Kumawood you get the real definition of ‘time is money,’ because the longer you stay on location the more expensive the production becomes,” Aboagye added.
Some Ghanaians are often embarrassed to admit to liking the films, as they are seen as “low standard,” Accra Film School Executive Director Rex-Anthony Annan said.
However, they are hugely popular and regularly shown on long-distance bus trips across the country.
“The fact they are in the local dialect you can relate with it more,” 22-year-old Eunice Larbie said as she waited for the bus to Accra in Kumasi.
The films are slowly making their way in to movie theaters in Ghana, but are more likely found on local television, online or DVD at the roadside.
Kumawood produces about 40 percent of all Ghanaian films while those made in Accra account for about half.
The rest originate from other parts of the country, Annan said.
However, Kumawood stars are more popular than those of Accra-made films and their movies are played all over the world by homesick Ghanaians, he added.
Kumawood films do not necessarily follow rules and filmmakers are not professionally trained. Often there is no plot and confusion reigns.
“Kumawood conflicts are almost never resolved, they go on and on. They always have challenges with the technical stuff,” Annan said.
Post-production special effects, such as people or objects levitating, are obvious targets for ridicule, he added.
“In some movies they try to do funny things, shooting, blood, it’s a feature of their movies. There’s always a ghost, some spirit coming from somewhere,” he said.
On-set, actress Amanda Nana Achiaa rubs dirt over her arms and ruffles her hair. Wearing green tracksuit bottoms with holes cut in them, the 25-year-old prepares for an emotional scene depicting life as a street child.
The producer shouts “Action” and the camera rolls.
Another actor limps around the corner and falls down next to her on the ground. The film’s only cameraman films a close-up of Achiaa’s tears.
Achiaa said she has lost count of the number of Kumawood movies she has been in.
Kumawood films usually have a moral lesson, director Bismark Okyene said.
The 32-year-old’s film starring Achiaa was about family, deception and greed.
Once the crew gets all the shots they need of the street children, they quickly move to a nearby house.
Setting up on a dirt path, one person holds a boom for the lone microphone, while the cameraman crouches against a wall of the house and begins filming.
Three masked men carrying plastic guns come barreling around the corner, chased by another actor wearing a torn and loose-fitting blue camouflage police uniform.
A shootout follows, one of the armed men is shot, and the three run and limp into the house.
Okyene, who is shooting six different movies in under two months, called it a wrap after three takes.
He had another film to shoot the next day.
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