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2 Work, Women, and Worldly Wealth Global Video Culture and the Early Years of Local Video Production In 1987, when William Akuffo, a film importer and distributor, produced and screened Zinabu, a full-length feature shot with a VHS video camera, film production in Ghana was at a standstill. Dilapidated cinema houses, film equipment in need of repair, and the dire state of the economy had made the production of films financially untenable. The Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC), without a functioning laboratory or the foreign currency needed to purchase film stock, had not released a feature film, without the assistance of foreign investors , since 1979. Independent filmmaker Kwaw Ansah had just completed shooting his award-winning film Heritage Africa (1988) and was publicly contemplating the end of his filmmaking career. Ghanaians who visited cinema houses watched scratched and faded films from the United States, India, and China. In this market, a video feature made by a Ghanaian and featuring Ghanaians in local settings was a smash hit; its phenomenal success encouraged other nonprofessional video producers , men and women like Akuffo who had no prior training or experience in film, to try their hands at video production. Within five years, over thirty local features had been released in Ghana. All of the major theaters were equipped with video projectors, and hundreds of small privately owned video centers were erected in urban and rural areas to meet the growing demand for video viewing. The early years of video production, between roughly 1987 and 1992, were characterized by radical transformation put in motion by developments generally associated with globalization: the emergence of new media technologies, unprecedented in their reach and rapid progress; the liberalization, privatization, and global integration of state economies, driven by international economic institutions such 62 / Work, Women, and Worldly Wealth as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the simultaneous weakening of nation-states. In Ghana in the 1980s and early ’90s, the erosion of state support for and control of filmmaking coupled with the ready availability of video technology allowed individuals situated outside of the networks of official cultural production, first, to import and exhibit pirated copies of imported films and television programming, and, later, to produce their own features, which were unregulated as commodities and artistic objects. Ordinary Ghanaians living in poor urban areas, freed from the requirements for cultural and economic capital imposed by the film medium and buoyed up by new media technologies, took up video cameras and started making and exhibiting their own productions. No longer did the state control who could be given access to filmmaking technologies or whose film projects would receive support. No longer was the ability to make “films” available to members of the educated elite exclusively. Video technology and an increasingly liberalized and democratic media made possible, from this perspective, what Birgit Meyer describes as “the opening up of public space to the concerns and views of ordinary people” (2004, 93). The recognition that the structural and technological changes that opened the media in Ghana to “ordinary people” simultaneously implemented economic policies that made life for most Ghanaians extremely difficult tempers, I think, what otherwise might be a rather too optimistic reading of the new public spaces of globalization. Video technology did allow individuals situated outside the state-controlled realm of cultural production to produce video features. The first videomakers, without access to the cultural capital needed to make films, had no chance whatsoever of being employed by GFIC, gaining entrance to the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), or organizing the exorbitant amount of foreign currency that would have been needed to finance a film project. Yet, it is worth emphasizing that local video production in Ghana emerges from the urban slums of Accra, where the economic realities of globalization are as disabling and dispiriting as new media technologies and a liberalized and democratic media are enabling. Undoubtedly, the history of popular video reveals a lot about the opportunities for creative expression and entrepreneurialism left behind by a restrained and weakened nationstate , but these are opportunities born out of deficiency and want, examples of barely getting by with the little that is available. In this chapter, I examine not only the new publics and possibilities created by Ghana’s commercial video industry but also describe the Global Video Culture and the Early Years of Local Video Production / 63 limitations and insecurities made manifest in Ghanaian video movies. I want to suggest that in...


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