ACCRA’S CRAZY CINEMAS: The story of Ghana’s handmade movie poster industry

Chuck Norris: the west African refit (c) Christopher Robbins Blog

Blockbuster films from Hollywood heavily dominate the international moving picture industry, or so it seems. Although India’s film industry churns out 800 to 1,000 movies a year, according to the Guinness Book of World Records – the United States produces around 700-800 annually. The Americans however know how to make their money do the talking for their films.

Although Hollywood has been hit by the global recession much like everywhere else, a decade ago, the average cost of releasing a Hollywood film amounted to US$ 102.8 million – according to a former president of the country’s Motion Picture Association. That is divided into $63.8 million for the film’s production costs and other expenditure, while marketing the movie to cinemas and video stores all over the world adds an extra $39 million to the bill.

The movie makers now spend several six-figure sums on trailers for TV, cinema and online to whet consumers’ appetite for their products, but one tried-and-tested means of advertising is the reliable old movie poster. It is easy to install, relatively cheap and memorable. Nevertheless, the costs of mass-producing vast quantities of posters as well as required wages for artists and printing staff, can run into several thousands of dollars.

In Ghana, west Africa, in the days before mass-produced colour printing technology, there was a more traditional method of promoting a blockbuster….hand-painted posters designed by local artists earning bread for their talents.

During the Eighties, when VCR cassettes were the chief means of film distribution, entrepreneurs and owners of small cinemas found a way to bring the moving image to all of Ghana, at a time when electricity was a rare and unreliable commodity, and the vast majority of people were unable to afford to go on trips to the cinema on any regular basis.

From the capital Accra, to places like Donkorkrom and Kumasi, as well as the thousands of rural communities across one of western Africa’s largest film markets, mobile cinemas plied the entertainment trade. Consisting of little more than a television, VCR machine and a generator, these ‘mobile cinemas’ would bring the best of Hollywood to entertain villagers after a hard day’s selling or farming. Back then and now, films from neighbouring Nigeria (the Nollywood industry) as well as Hong Kong kung-fu titles and local productions were also the staples of choice.

An example of a typical African travelling cinema (c) Radio Netherlands Worldwide
An example of a typical African travelling cinema (c) Radio Netherlands Worldwide

In the absence of any multi-million dollar advertising bandwagon to draw on as US cinemas could, the Ghanaian mobile cinema bosses called upon local artists to produce their own colourful visualisations of the films on offer. Often these were far-removed from the official film posters, with spelling mistakes and depictions of actors and characters that bore little resemblance to how they were in the film. Nevertheless the handmade posters are highly regarded as kitschy and majestic examples of contemporary West African popular art. They gave an extra financial/creative boost to indigenous artists who might have otherwise been relegated to shop signs and election posters.

The artists’ easel was a poster-sized piece of canvas, usually cut out from old flour sacks and their preferred medium were oil paints. They were allowed to exercise their artistic licence, which often meant adding elements to the posters that did not appear in the film advertised – as well as garish colour schemes. Some artists would get to work painting the poster without having even seen the film in question, making imaginative guesses from the movie title.

There is a definite Ghanaian cultural influence in how the artists interpreted the appearance of the characters. Add to that elements of mainstream and alternative Western art movements such as surrealism and cubism, perhaps as many of the artists had received formal training. Some may have been struggling fine arts students looking for some extra pocket money.

The posters had to be durable as they were rolled up between displays and taken to the next village to be re-used again. As a result, collectors will find it hard to obtain the painted posters in mint condition. However their effect on moviegoers in 1980’s Ghana was substantial. Even Hollywood screenwriter Walter Hill wrote that in many cases the posters were “more interesting than the films.”

By 1997-8, the falling price of television equipment meant more Ghanaian families being able to afford a set in their homes. As people could easily acquire their own sizeable collection of videos, this deprived the mobile cinemas of their running income. With the death of Ghana’s travelling nickelodeons, so was the fate of Ghana’s hand-crafted movie posters also sealed. Printed posters also became easier and cheaper to produce, but the canvas posters have passed into African movie folklore and still retain an artistic chic and allure among movie poster collectors and serious students of popular art.

Posters were designed by individual artists, as well as studio collectives and artisans working under the employed direction of the mobile cinemas themselves. Strangely the movie moguls of Hollywood seemingly showed no interest in assisting the artists or studios directly with their products’ promotion, but must have been happy to gain the additional publicity.

Artists and art studios behind these awesome creations included:

  • Rolls Royce Video
  • Tina Tana
  • Princess Osu
  • Bombay (Teshie) cinema
  • Ziggy Video Club, Kaneshie
  • Slyfox Video Club (Tiankama Nkwanta)
  • E.A. Heavy Jeaurs
  • Mr. Brew Art (Kwesi Blue)
  • W.A. Otchere
  • Leonardo Arts (Edward Lamptey)

Here is a selection of some of the best posters unravelled by the Half-Eaten Mind. For the foreign movies, the official poster design is included for comparison purposes.

CUJO (1983)

(c) ephemera assemblyman
(c) MoviePosterDB.com

TERMINATOR 2 (1991)

(c) ephemera assemblyman
(c) Terminator Wiki

EVIL DEAD II (1987)

(c) ephemera assemblyman
(c) Moviegoods
(c) Moviegoods

ASSORTED GHANAIAN/US MOVIES

(c) full speed half blind full tilt decline

QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997)

(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page
(c) Wikipedia

ANACONDA (1997)

(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page
(c) movieposter.com

ANGRAKSHAK (India, 1995)

(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page
(c) Indian Cinema Fans

VARIOUS GHANA & NIGERIA FILMS

(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page
(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page
(c) ephemera assemblyman
(c) ephemera assemblyman
(c) Mo Ringey Art via ConcreteRocket
(c) Rene Wanner’s Poster Page

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:

Guinness World Records- Officially Amazing , Guinness World Records Corporate LINK

“Hollywood film budgets top $100m” – BBC News LINK

“Film Poster Paintings from Ghana” – Joel, ephemera assemblyman LINK

“Cujo (poster)” – MoviePosterDB.com, The Internet Movie Poster Database LINK

“Terminator 2 poster.jpg” – Terminator Wiki, Wikia LINK

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” – MovieGoods, Gale Group LINK

full speed half blind full tilt decline (by Morgan) LINK

“Web Poster Exhibition – Painted Movie Posters from Ghana” – Rene Wanner’s Poster Page LINK

“Quicksilver Highway” – Wikipedia LINK

“ANACONDA POSTER” – movieposter.com LINK

“Sunny Deol FilmoGraphy” – Indian Cinema Fans LINK (beware of pop-up adverts!!)

“Hand painted movie posters from Ghana” – Concrete Rocket Blog LINK

“Akirash” – Christopher Robbins, Christopher Robbins Blog LINK

“Sarah goes Soccer: Travelling cinemas” – RNW Africa Desk, Radio Netherlands Worldwide LINK

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “ACCRA’S CRAZY CINEMAS: The story of Ghana’s handmade movie poster industry

      • agadir excursions November 25, 2012 / 5:55 pm

        you are welcome , followed your blog , greetings from Morocco .

        Sud Aventures Tours

        Like

      • halfeatenmind November 25, 2012 / 7:41 pm

        Hi,

        I’ve also followed your blog too…Morocco is a beautiful land 🙂

        Vijay
        – HalfEatenMind

        Like

  1. carlo November 25, 2012 / 10:53 pm

    This is mindblowing! The local artists show great talent and a genuine flair in grabbing the audience’s imagination. Hollywood posters, on the other hand, evolved for synthesis, having to fight for attention amidst a dense, often over-crowded media landscape. The moving cinema, traveling through the African majestic scenarios make the movie epic even before it begins. Thank you or sharing this beautiful story.

    Like

    • halfeatenmind November 26, 2012 / 8:41 am

      I could not have said it better myself. It is admirable how these artists were far away from our media-saturated landscape/society yet produced posters that were just as full of impact as anything produced by a Hollywood studio. They had no access to a Ivy league fine arts education and yet turned out such amazing art.
      Thanks for reading and enjoying!

      Vijay
      – HalfEatenMind

      Like

  2. Mus November 25, 2014 / 4:16 pm

    Wow! Great post, really interesting. Amusing and moving at the same time. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s