US-based Ghanaian filmmaker Leila Djansi talks about her films, her production company and the future of cinema in Ghana.
Leila, please talk a bit about yourself?
Well, I am a filmmaker. I'm from Ghana. I make movies that dwell on social issues.
You are among a growing number of African women who have studied filmmaking in the United States. You began your career in Ghana before traversing the Atlantic. What was your experience with cinema growing up in Ghana?
It wasn't an elaborate experience really because not much was going on then. But, what was ongoing was fun. From where I am now it seems very amateurish but its how I got here. I learned the basics and got myself fortified for where I am now.
What are some of the differences and similarities in working in Ghana and the United States? Do you bring both an US aesthetic and Ghanaian perspective to your work?
Apart from the US working environment being more conducive, really not that much difference. I do try to bring both aesthetics to bear. If you are going to make an appealing film, you must make it within an acceptable standard.
Among your film credits are, I Sing of a Well, Sinking Sands and the soon to be released Ties That Bind. What have been some highlights during the production of the films? How have they been received?
Highlights, they were all fun to make. Tears and Laughter. Money and No money. I Sing of a Well was not well received. Ghana is a very tricky and delicate place. The people’s minds get conditioned and it takes time to add more to what they already know. So from the get with I Sing of a Well, we made mistakes. Casting, budgets and logistics wise, we made grave mistakes. But all that was a learning process which made Sinking Sands a success and more acceptable.
Your production company, the Los Angeles-based Turning Point Pictures, produces films with a focus on social issues, what inspired you to create the company and what are some of the films produced?
To be a voice really. When my father died, because my sisters and I are all girls, we were asked not to talk. The male members of the family were making plans and bringing us bills. Finally I resisted. The outcome was not pleasant. If only an avenue of communication were there, things might turned out better. A lot of times we are scared to say things because we are afraid to lose love, lose respect and other things but in the end, it does hurt us anyways. I think we have to start communicating. There should be non-judgmental platforms where people can express themselves. People come to me after watching Sinking Sands and say “you told my story” and I am very, very happy I can be a voice to the voiceless. That is the main purpose of the company. To be that voice. To thread where normally people are scared to because of what they'll lose.
Are there co-productions between the United States and Ghana?
All my films have been co-productions because I have a daughter company in Ghana and the mother company is in the US. So though it’s the same company per-se, we operate it legally as co-productions. I am very nervous when it comes to other co productions with companies that are not well established and reputable because I have been burned before.
There is a fast-growing cinema culture in Ghana, what do you see in the future of Ghanaian cinema?
Well. It’s growing. I’m not sure what direction it’s growing in but it’s growing. Right now for most of the players it’s about making more money, more money and more money to live the flashy lifestyles so art forms are non-existent. I am happy people like Kwaw Ansah who are storytellers are back working. I have to mention King Ampaw’s No Time to Die, as well. Two people are not enough for such a relatively large industry but what I think will happen is that the young ones, due to globalization will be more passionate about the art.
Interview by Beti Ellerson, July 2011