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Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Boy Kumasenu, Ghana (1952 Feature Film); Sean Graham; Gold Coast Film Unit; African Films; Ethiopian Films; Haile Gerima

From YouTube: The Boy Kumasenu, directed by Sean Graham.

I once interviewed Sean Graham, the film director (Educational Broadcasting International, September 1980; interview posted below, plus interviews with Jean Rouch,  a 5-page interview in Educational Broadcasting International, June 1978, and another with Sam Aryeetey, EBI, September 1980) .

"The Boy Kumasenu is a 1952 feature film made in Ghana by a British film crew. It was produced and directed by Sean Graham. It tells the story of a boy Kumasenu who moves to the city of Accra from a small fishing village, encouraged by his cousin Agboh's exaggerated tales of the wonders of city life. Hungry, he steals bread and is caught by police, but is rescued by a doctor and his wife who find him work. Agboh attempts to get Kumasenu to rob the doctor, but Kumasenu foils his cousin's plans".

The original screenplay and shooting script 

Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire - A story of transition within the Gold Coast, as the boy Kumasenu moves from a small fishing village to the modern city of Accra.

See also: Amenu's Child

Shooting Amenu's Child

More information

Another note

Other opinions

See also, Song of Ceylon, Basil Wright (1934)

Men of Africa, Alexander Shaw (1939-1940)

A Giant People - Watussi of Africa, 1939


Found on the web (not yet read):

COLONIAL AND POST-COLONIAL AFRICAN CINEMA (A Theoretical and Critical Analysis of Discursive Practices). Femi Okiremuete Shaka BA Hons. (Benin), MA (Ibadan). Pdf File

Having had a quick look at the bibliography, I have (literally) just discovered one of my articles (Sight and Sound, Spring, 1979) quoted at some length in this thesis (see pages 78-84). An initial reading makes me think that my exploration and discussion of key issues of film language, style and the possible influence of technology has been misunderstood, and that Femi Shaka's critique of my lengthy article is very selective and wide of the mark: the whole point of my article was to explore how far training programmes in certain film-making techniques and patterns, and with specific (now greatly outdated) pre-digital pieces of equipment, could have hindered the development of more local and culturally-relevant aesthetic styles and modes of expression and narration. I will return to this, since I was not adopting a technological-deterministic or 'Eurocentric' position (even if that is not for me to judge), but rather raising questions which had concerned me in relation to the formulaic technical training of film-makers from different cultures at the time (in the 1960's and 1970's, and during the preceding decades). I was trying to investigate the topic from many sides, to provoke discussion and to challenge the trainers themselves. I most definitely did not argue or imply "by extension", that "there cannot exist an African film aesthetics, and by implication also African cinema". Just the opposite!

The testimony of Ghanaian film-maker, Nick Teye, may shed further light on my approach and intentions, in the form of feedback contained in a letter received after I’d run a seminar on Script-Writing for Documentary Film Makers in Accra, Ghana, back in 1980, at the National Film and TV Institute: “After the priceless seminar with you in Accra…I now view documentary films with a very critical mind…your approach to the subject was revolutionary and challenging, which third-world film makers need most”. (Nick Teye, 25/9/1980).

It's surprising how one can become re-engaged in discussion of a topic after so many years have passed (40 years since I started writing my Sight and Sound article). Now I'll have to read the following works:

Modernity and the African Cinema: A Study in Colonialist Discourse, Postcoloniality, and Modern African Identities (review)

From the review by Sheila Petty:

"Shaka chides seminal writers on African cinema such as Diawara, Ukadike, Armes, and Pfaff for focusing too much on charting African film history and not providing an appropriate theoretical framework for analyzing African film (22). To redress this "theoretical oversight," as he puts it, it is necessary to consider such concepts as "Africanness," "modernity" and "subjectivity" (22). Although he correctly points out that "[one] of the major problems currently plaguing the criticism of African film... [is] lack of attention to the specificity of the cinematic medium, especially with regards to the nature of narration in film" (111), he devotes long passages to explications of others' points of view. For example, in one lengthy section (111–23), he describes cinematic codes of narration and states that he will develop a framework for the criticism of African film, but this project is never fully realized, nor is it made clear how it could be put to the test with filmic texts. Furthermore, his claim about the lack of attention to the nature of "subjectivity and its attendant aspects" (111) is problematic, since in many African films the African subject is explicitly expressed as a function of ideology and aesthetics. Other inconsistencies and inaccuracies also undermine the author's project".

Instructional Cinema in Colonial Africa: An Historical Reappraisal, Shaka, Femi Okiremuete

Another dissertation: "Film in Nigeria: Development, Problems and Promise", Onyero Mgbejume, Ph.D, The University of Texas at Austin, 1978. Dr. Mgbejume kindly acknowledges, at the start, our correspondence and states: "Mr. Jim Potts....whose bibliographical reference started me off with this study".

It's certainly instructive to view and "deconstruct" some of the old colonial-period films to which I have linked via YouTube above.

Interviews from EBI (photos from a tightly bound volume):

Produced and directed by Sam Aryeetey

An article by Basil Wright (EBI, June, 1979):

An EBI Cover design:

Some other literature from my 1970's library:





I particularly admire the films, cinematic language and aesthetic of Ethiopian director Haile Gerima.

Some of his films:

Sankofa (1993)
    Imperfect Journey (1994)
     Adwa - An African Victory (1999)
 Teza (2009)

From Tate Modern: 

Harvest: 3,000 Years / Mirt Sost Shi Amit

Haile Gerima, Ethiopia 1976, 16mm, black and white, 150 min

"Harvest: 3,000 Years is an epic picture of peasant life in contemporary Ethiopia and a milestone in African cinema. Centred on farmers’ resistance to feudal land owners, the film blends oral narrative traditions with revolutionary film form. Gerima's first feature set in Africa is a passionate and personal work, as he has stated the film 'shows you the actual footprints of my youth, of where I grew up with my father and the rest of my family.' Produced in the midst of civil war in Ethiopia following the overthrow of Haile Selassie, the film is a post-colonial allegory of class exploitation and tribute to the collective struggle for justice of an entire nation. The masterful film tells its story as if it were a documentary observing the working life of its characters. Filmed in Amharic with local cast, the film shifts between observed scenes of from the farmers’ lives to polemical characterisation of corrupt colonialists and political speeches in order to tell its impassioned story of collective resistance. Released in the same year as Bush Mama, the two films led critics to celebrate the arrival of a major new film-maker, creator of a distinct new Black cinema sensitive both to the liberation movement in African and the political climate in America".

John L. Jackson Jr, University of Pennsylvania

"Once I realized how colonized I was mentally, I started to think about film as a way to engage our political world. And even though I was not a member of the Black Power Movement, it created a very serious political crisis for those of us who were colonized mentally. It was a period when we redefined who the hell we were. In that process, cinema enabled me to gradually work on myself. It gave me the opportunity to redefine and reaffirm my right to speak, the significance of my accent and narrative temperament, and in so doing, to this day, I'm very grateful that, however imperfect my films are, I continue to be very challenged to bring the folkloric and cultural background of my upbringing in Ethiopia into my cinema—not absolutely, but to an extent. And if people like my films and forgive me for all the problems my stories cause, they might still admire some of the things I have been able to say in my films. And for me, cinema's devastating capacity to colonize can be counter-utilized in a way that projects one's own human story—without apologies".

A Conversation on Black Aesthetics with Haile Gerima and John L. Jackson, Jr (YouTube)

Haile Gerima about the capacity of African cinema to deal with its cultural basis (YouTube)

YETUT LIJ: A film by Haile Gerima [Indiegogo Campaign Video]

My own "Ethiopian Film"


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