The film industry in Ghana began in 1948 when the Colonial Office established the Gold Coast Film Unit to inform the government and people of the United Kingdom and its Dominions about developments in the Gold Coast Colony. The first head of the unit was Sean Graham, a young university graduate, posted to the Gold Coast to join the colony’s Civil Service.
Apart from the newsreels, the film unit produced documentaries, targeted at informing the colonial subjects about basics of social development, such as hygiene, housing, payment of taxes and so on. Dramatized documentaries like Progress in Kojokrom and Mr. Mensah Builds a House, made deep impact on the people of the Gold Coast.
The unit also recruited some of the most promising graduates of Achimota School and trained them to assist in the production of these films. Among these were Sam Aryeetey, R.O. Fenuku, and Egbert Adjeso, who developed to become important filmmakers, and leaders of the film industry of the future.
To establish his place in the great documentary tradition, Sean Graham made The Boy Kumasenu, which clearly projected the impressions of the colonialists about their subjects, especially the growing middle class of the Gold Coast whom the film presented mostly in caricature strokes.
Upon the attainment of independence in 1957, the government of the new Republic of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, being well aware of the importance that film plays in the socio-cultural and economic development of a country, set up the Ghana Film Unit to Succeed the Gold Coast film Unit.
Film exhibition and distribution services were added to the Ghana Film Unit to transform it into what was to become the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (G.F.I.C.), then the only composite film Industry establishment in Africa south of the Sahara. As part of its objectives, the corporation was to produce films to feed the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation’s Television, the Ghanaian missions abroad, as well as its own theatres.
For forty-eight years, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation played its crucial role in transforming the masses of our nation from the mentality of a colonial people to that of the consciousness that was truly confident of its self-esteem and proud of its African personality. The newsreels, documentaries, and features that the corporation produced, set out to conscientise the Ghanaian people into contributing positively to the development of the nation.
The Newsreels of the G.F.I.C. narrated the independence stories of many an African nation including our own. The WORK AND HAPPINESS series, among other news magazines, still give insight into the great strides taken by a nation in its social and cultural development.
So much history was captured on film and stored in the archives of the Ghana Film Industry Corporation, all capturing the spirit of the times and providing valuable research materials for generations yet to come; an invaluable wealth of footage giving much insight into building of a newly independent nation and capturing the spirit of a speedily advancing society.
To consolidate these achievements, the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) was established to provide professional training for a continuous build-up of an efficient, nation-serving film and television industry of the future.
The Ghana Film Industry Corporation also produced a large number of documentaries, which focused on all aspects of social, and cultural development. Two of these, made by Chris Tsui Hesse, The Making Of A King, and The Passing Of A King portrayed some of the splendour and culture of the Ashanti Kingdom. Hesse’s Cult Of The Twins; and Kofi Yirenkyi’s two films Tongo Festival and Customary Marriage, give insight into some of the religious and cultural practices of the Ghanaian people. Other documentaries like Youth In National Development and Behind the Prison Walls, both by Seth Ashong-Katai, and Aliga’s Day by T.A. Daniels portray developments in society.
The desire to entertain showed up very early in the activities of the G.F.I.C. with the production of Jaguar Nana, a dance drama piece, which is also the first widescreen colour production in Ghana and expertly executed by the cinematographer, R.O. Fenuku.
In its effort to create a viable film industry in Ghana, the G.F.I.C. also produced a large number of story feature films. Beginning with Tongo Hamile, which is a version of the Shakespeare classic, Hamlet, the corporation focused on cultural motifs as the backdrops of its productions. Sam Aryeetey, Ghana’s premier filmmaker, came out with No Tears For Ananse, a story about the mythical folk character, and how wisdom spread throughout the world. The ever popular I Told You So, by Egbert Adjeso, which is structured on the Ghanaian Concert Party theatre genre, followed soon after the Ananse story. After this, the corporation turned its attention to stories that focused on current society.
Tom Ribeiro’s Genesis Chapter X, a story that portrayed some of the dilemmas that face developing African societies, followed Doing Their Own Thing, a musical by Bernard Odjidja.
The Box Office success of Genesis X was quickly followed by the first independently produced feature, Love Brewed in the African Pot by Kwaw Ansah. This film which did so much to sell Ghanaian filmmaking abroad, was followed by King Ampaw’s two films, Kukurantumi, The Road to Accra, and Nana Akoto, His Majesty’s Sergeant, by Ato Yarney, a film that tell of the story of the African fighting side by side with the British in the World War II followed King Apaw’s films which were Ghana-German co-productions. All of these productions were shot with personnel and equipment from the G.F.I.C.
Heritage Africa, Kwaw Ansah’s award-winning movie of epic dimensions, came blazing a trail to remind the African about the need to avoid compromising his heritage and traditions for those alien values he had picked up from the colonialist past. Blind admiration of practices that lure the African into sacrificing his heritage, and scorn for things that are inherent in his own environment, are setting him on a course that is bound to strangulate his self-identity. Some other Ghanaian movies made during this period were Aya Minnow by T.A. Daniels, a Ghana Film Production, and Back Home Again by Zokko Koffi.