Bay Area Video Coalition!

I’ll be giving a talk about audio-visual preservation in Ghana and the forthcoming video documentary my friend Anita Afonu is making about these issues at 6 pm this Thursday, September 15, 2011 at the wonderful and amazing Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

AV Preservation in the Not-So-Global Digital World
Post-colonial African filmmakers sought to tell their stories to change how the world thought about Africa. What has happened to those films? Where did they end up and who has access to them today? How do global inequalities in media preservation resources affect the way that history is told? Jennifer Blaylock discusses her recent work preserving film and video in Ghana. Jennifer will screen raw footage from a documentary on AV preservation issues in Ghana that she is currently co-producing with Ghanaian filmmaker, Anita Afonu.

Click here for more information.

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Films from the Archives

On May 13th 2011 Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (a group of passionate audiovisual archivists who have gone to Ghana for the past four years to do audiovisual preservation trainings and workshops with Ghanaian audiovisual caretakers, an organization that I’m proud to say I’ve been involved with for the past three years) and New York University Accra held a screening of Ghanaian related films recently preserved by the United States Library of Congress at the National Film and Television Institute in Accra, Ghana. Excerpts from four films were screened: Family of Ghana (1958) a co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and the Ghana Film Unit about the modernization of sea fishing on the coast of Ghana; African Writers of Today (1964) a US television production featuring Lewis Nkosi, Dr. William Abraham and Wole Soyinka; Claude & Etta Moten Barnett Home Movies of West Africa (ca. 1957) containing footage of downtown Accra as well as images from Nigeria and Liberia; and Hamile: The Tongo Hamlet (1964) a Northern Ghana adaptation of the Shakespearean play. For more information about the films screened check out the program notes.

Before the screening DVD access copies of Claude & Etta Moten Barnett Home Movies of West Africa and Hamile: The Tongo Hamlet were donated to the following key Ghanaian educational and media institutions: Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Information Services Department Central Film Library, National Film and Television Institute, University of Ghana, and the National Archives.

The following photos of the screening are courtesy of Kara Van Malssen.

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Posted in African Cinema, Archives & Libraries, Audiovisual Archives, Film Festivals & Screenings, Ghananian Cinema | Tagged , | 1 Comment

ISD Sort Finished!

Patience Allotey and a day's worth of discarded films.

We began a process of sorting through the film collection at the ISD Central Film Library in October 2010 to separate the deteriorated film from those films that were still salvageable and to record basic information about the films in the collection. Previously there was no complete catalog or record of the films in the collection and no work had been done to preserve the films in the collection for posterity and future access. Unfortunately after a couple weeks of work our project was put on hold for six months. It was only recently that we began to work again, finishing the project on May 18, 2011. With the help of 6 awesome National Film and Television Institute students, 2 United States PhD students, 1 American volunteer, New York University professor Mona Jimenez, and the ISD Cinema Section staff the project has been a major success but with bittersweet results.

The new film library!


After sorting through the total ISD Central Film Library collection we found that only 626 films were salvageable out of 5,250 films or 12% of the total collection! 3,189 films were spoiled and 1,435 films were considered so damaged that it would take a great deal of financial resources to salvage. As a result of the sorting process we now have a current list of films that are in the ISD collection, though some films, because of a lack of information on their can, are still unidentifiable and need detailed inspection before more information can be gathered about them.

THANK YOU once again to all that helped make this project a success!

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“Do not panic. Government is protecting the public.”

I recently found a large collection of glass slides at the Information Services Department Central Film Library. They were originally used by the cinema vans for government educational campaigns on cholera prevention, voting, census, and various government programs. Judging by the Afro hairdos in some of the photos and a few dated slides, I would say most of these are from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

There are some real gems here—my favorite assures Ghanaians during a cholera epidemic, “Do not panic. Government is protecting the public.”

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Kwaw Ansah’s “The Good Old Days”

My ticket stub for "Papa Lasisi Good Bicycle"


Last night I went to the Grand Première of the second installment of Kwaw Ansah’s 24 part series The Good Old Days at Ghana’s National Theatre. The series, a period piece based in post-independence Ghana, began last November with the film The Love of AA (2010), which follows two young peoples blossoming love as they secretly exchange elaborate love letters. When their parents discover and read their love letters they are subjected to torturous humiliation that sends audiences rolling on the floor with laughter. The second installment, Papa Lasisi Good Bicycle (2011), continues by following the adventures of the Mensah family, this time focusing on the exploits of the three Mensah boys. In this segment the boys hire bicycles from the unscrupulous Papa Lasisi and have a day of fun and mischief. Eventually their money runs out and they have to face the consequences of their debts and little white lies.

Yes, at times the story lolls and the occasional modern car or satellite dish can ruin the mise-en-scène, but I really appreciate Kwaw Ansah’s commitment to the subtleties of everyday family life and his ability to take the awkward unpleasantness of growing up and make an audience roar with laughter. When you think about it The Good Old Days can start to seem a lot like Ghana’s equivalent to Leave it to Beaver—a little too moralizing and maybe too cheesy to be realistic but full of wholesome charm that’s hard to ignore. Rather than devote more time to the intricacies of this unreasonable comparison, I’d like to simply state that I think a health dose of feel good nostalgia is important every once in a while, even if it does distort history a bit.

On a side note, I was excited to discover that Kwaw Ansah has put out his classic works on DVD (12 cedis) and VCD (10 cedis). Last night I picked up a copy of his award winning film Heritage Africa (1989) and I am told you can pick up copies of Love Brewed in the African Pot (1981) and The Love of AA at TV Africa. So many people made DVD and VCD purchases of Kwaw Ansah’s films last night that I’m hopeful that there could be a market for the older Ghanaian feature films that are in the Information Services Department Central Film Library if they could be preserved and made available.

Premiere swag.

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NAFTI students volunteer to save Ghana’s film heritage

Last week we began to sort through the films in the Information Service Department collection once again (after a five month hiatus) with the help of three National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) students and one NAFTI alumni. Many thanks to them for all the hard work that they are doing to save these important Ghanaian films!

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Misuse me and I disappoint thousands.

The Film Prayer


Sometimes it can be a small discovery that a film archivist relishes, like this little ditty I recently found in a film can. I couldn’t help but be charmed by the creative attempt to disguise film care and handling practices in the form of a prayer. A rather gruesome one at that. Statements like, “I have no alternative but to go to my death” and “I am torn to shreds” aren’t exactly heavenly images. The full FILM PRAYER reads as follows:

“I AM FILM, not steel, O user, have mercy. I front dangers whenever I travel the whirling wheels of mechanism. Over the sprocket wheels, held tight by the idlers, I am forced by the motor’s magic might. If a careless hand misthreads me, I have no alternative but to go to my death. If the pull on the takeup reel is too violent, I am torn to shreds. If dirt collects in the aperture, my film of beauty is streaked and marred, and I must face my beholders—a thing ashamed and bespoiled. Please, if I break NEVER fasten me with pins which lacerate the fingers of my inspectors.

“I travel many miles in tin cans. I am tossed on heavy trucks, sideways and upside down. Please see that my first few coils do not slip loose in my shipping case, and become bruised and wounded beyond power to heal. Put me in my own can. Scrape off all old labels on my shipping case so I will not get astray.

“Speed me on my way. Others are waiting to see me. THE NEXT DAY IS THE LAST DAY I SHOULD BE HELD. Have a heart for the other fellow who is waiting, and for my owner who will get the blame.

“I am a delicate ribbon of film—misuse me and I disappoint thousands; cherish me, and I delight and instruct the world.”


I have to admit the last line gets me feeling pretty sentimental. Ah…celluloid.

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