For Sedufia, the week started off with quite an intense pace. It was not until midweek, when things seemed to have slowed down, that we were able to catch up with him via Zoom for a chat about Ghana’s film industry.
To understand the current situation, it is important for us to give some context: Ghana comes second to Nigeria in terms of the number of movies produced annually, but the gap is wide. Nigeria produces about 2,600 movies a year compared to Ghana’s 600.
However, this has not always been the case. Competition in West Africa’s film industry used to be a two-horse race; so what changed?
According to Sedufia, Ghana failed to quickly evolve from the DVD and VCD era in the early 2000s – the golden age of Ghanaian movies.
When the DVDs and VCDs disappeared, it disappeared with us and so we are now trying to discover ourselves and pick up
The fading of that era came with the shrinking of indigenous movie distributors, such as Alexiboat Films in Kumasi, whose work significantly promoted Ghanaian films in and outside the country.
“Ghana previously had a very good distribution system, but when things switched to the digital age, the Ghanaian film industry was not ready for it and didn’t have the know-how or the means to switch quickly. Distribution of Ghanaian movies is a big challenge now. People may manage to raise funds to do movies, but they don’t have distribution channels to sell them for adequate revenues,” he tells The Africa Report.
“When the DVDs and VCDs disappeared, it disappeared with us and so we are now trying to discover ourselves and pick up,” he says.
Movies from Africa are in high demand globally and this means that there is a huge market for filmmakers on the continent to tap in.
In the case of Ghana, lack of funding is not only limiting the potential for quality production, but also the required quantity to make significant imprints on the global scene.
Ghanaian filmmakers generally resort to private kitties to fund their works. Filmmakers like Sedufia, who has an impressive track record, are able to draw from distribution networks and private non-filmmaking contacts.
South Africa-based Gravel Road Distribution Group and Canal+ International, for instance, have funded his previous work.
“The high number of foreign productions that are coming to Africa to tell African stories tells you that they are looking for our content, but we are unable to meet the demand. The problem we have in this regard is funding,” he says.
Solution to unemployment
According to UNESCO, the film and audiovisual industry in Africa has the potential to create over 20 million jobs and generate $20bn in revenues per year, but it currently rakes in only a quarter of that.
The continent needs to create at least one million jobs per month to tackle the growing problem of unemployment, especially among its youth.
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The arts industry is one of the most dynamic and elastic industries in the world and Sedufia says it holds the key to Africa’s youth unemployment challenge.
“For […] Aloe Vera, I hired more than 200 people and people took 4,000 ($320), others took 2,000 ($160) and more, just under one month. If the industry is vibrant and there is a lot of production ongoing, that is a lot of money especially for top actors who may get different gigs within a month,” he tells The Africa Report.
Government estimates put direct film sales in Ghana at $10,000 annually, creating nearly 200,000 indirect jobs.
As of the first quarter of 2021, data from Ghana’s Creative Arts Council showed that 2,860 persons were directly employed in the creative arts industry – including film.
The Film Producers Association of Ghana has pegged the number of persons directly employed by the film and audiovisual industry at around 200,000.
Growth of online streaming
The Burial Of Kojo, produced by US-based Ghanaian director Blitz the Ambassador, was the first Ghanaian movie to go up on Netflix in 2019, before Shirley Frimpong Manso’s Potato Potahto that same year.
Sedufia followed with two of his movies – Keteke and Sidechic Gang – which were taken up by Netflix, concurrently, in 2020 before his Aloe Vera film in August this year.
He said online streaming platforms have come as a perfect complement to cinemas, which are still the major way of selling films in Ghana.
“Going on any online platform that pays well and gives the film a wider audience is a good thing for us. We have Netflix, Amazon prime and DisneyPlus that allows us to get extra money apart from what we make from the cinemas,” he says.
2020 data put internet penetration in Ghana at 48%, but cost of data makes access to video on demand services (such as Netflix, Showmax, Amazon Prime, Wi-flix and Iroko TV) quite expensive.
Netflix is however steadily growing in Ghana, and features quite a number of local content.
The government’s plan to tax Netflix and other digital platforms may affect streaming of local movies on these platforms.
Lessons from Nigeria
Ghana and Nigeria have always had a healthy competition, which dates back to decades ago.
Unlike Ghana, however, Nigeria’s industry has fast evolved to become globally competitive, enjoying the number two spot in the world after Bollywood in terms of the number of productions.
There are many people in Ghana with money that do not understand the business of film
Last month Afreximbank committed $145m to Silverbird Group’s project for the development of West Africa’s largest film school and multimedia studios within Eko Atlantic City, Lagos – Nigeria.
Projects like this excite Sedufia who hopes for such investment in Ghana soon, but first, Ghana urgently needs local and corporate investors in the country to put money into films.
“I think that we have to look at what Nigeria is doing and see how we can replicate it. There are many people in Ghana with money that do not understand the business of film, but in Nigeria, miraculously, people seem to understand what they can make from film. There are a lot of cinemas in Nigeria owned by private people and they have distributors who are willing to take on films and release them and look for avenues locally and internationally… Even in Ghana the biggest cinema we have is owned by a Nigerian, Silverbird Group,” he says.
Nigeria’s Bank of Industry has set aside N1bn ($2m) to support the local film production value chain to create between about 2,000 direct and 5,000 indirect jobs for Nigerians.
Sedufia believes such a move is the way to go and adds to the many lessons Ghana can pick from Nigeria to grow its film industry.
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