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Djia Mambu
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Djia Mambu is a Writer at Africiné Magazine

Ghanaian Director Blitz Bazawule, at his left: actor Kobina Sam (stand, in the middle) and producer Kwaku Boateng at 2019 Louxor

Blitz Bazawule, Ghanaian Film Director

Kobina Sam, Ghanaian actor

Kwaku Boateng, Ghanaian producer

Cynthia Dankwa (Lead Actress), as Esi

Film still

Film still

Film still

Film still

Film still

Film still

Kobina SAM, Lead actor, at Luxor, 2019

Q&A, at 2019 Luxor, with Director Blitz Bazawule and Ahmed Shawky, Egyptian Film Critic (Vice-President of The African Federation of Film Critics)

Q&A, at 2019 Luxor, with The Burial of Kojo, cast and crew: coproducer Kwaku Boateng, director Blitz Bazawule, and actor Kobina Sam, with moderator Ahmed Shawky

Filmmaker Blitz Bazawule with his 2019 Golden Mask of Tutankhamon

Ava DuVernay, distributor (ARRAY)

Ama K. Abebrese, Actress and Producer

Actor Joseph Otsiman (Kojo)

Film still, with Esi (Cynthia Dankwa)

2019 Louxor, Official Poster

Africiné Magazine, the World Leader (Africa & Diaspora Films)

The Burial of Kojo or the Birth of a new era in Ghanaian cinema
A debute feature, directed by Samuel Blitz "The Ambassador" Bazawule
A poetic magical realist epic told from the perspective of a little girl, The Burial of Kojo is the first feature film by musical and visual artist Samuel Blitz "The Ambassador" Bazawule.
The film is a rare locally-produced project, its production crew, both actors and technicians are 99% Ghanaian. It is distributed by ARRAY (Ava DuVernay) and has recently hit Netflix (on March 31).
I met with director Blitz Bazawule, producer Boateng Kwaku and actor Kobina Sam at 2019 the Luxor African film festival, where the film has won The Nile Grand Prize for Best Long Narrative (The Golden Mask of Tutankhamon).

Djia Mambu: The Burial of Kojo "TBOK" is a unique historical yet magical African tale. Where did the adventure spring from?
Blitz Bazawule: It's an original screenplay, which took me probably six months to write. I wove it with various threads: the magical aspects and the brother issues began the story and then I adapted it. It felt more like literature, so it made sense to me to tell the story from a literary perspective.

It is inspired by one of the oldest stories of mankind: sibling rivalry, a common feature of the Bible - Joseph and his brothers, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau. Within it are distinctly human sentiments: jealousy, anger, and guilt. One brother has and the other hasn't, yet they have both been brought up in the same environment. In this case, the object of desire is different but the story is the same: what happens when tragedy hits?

It is founded on our grandmothers' tales. In these stories, the heroes were mostly little girls, the ones with the clearest vision of the people around them. There are aspects I didn't have to imagine, they come from the stories I heard when I was a kid.

"There's no point in taking 40 people and leading them into the process of regressive painful, physical and mental torture that is filmmaking."

Djia Mambu: When did you really realize that TBOK was definitely worth producing? As a filmmaker when do you decide that a specific film project has to keep going until the end, no matter what?
Blitz: When we sat down to think about making the film, I knew we were doing something that had never done before. There's no point in taking 40 people and leading them into the process of regressive painful, physical and mental torture that is filmmaking. When you get paid, okay, sometimes it doesn't feel as bad. But I was asking actors to transform who they are, to adopt certain thoughts they naturally don't have. They had to embody these thoughts for 30 days, four whole weeks of work. It's an ordeal. I didn't want to waste anybody's time, neither the team's nor the audience's.

Djia Mambu: Is Africa TBOK's actual target audience?

Blitz: This is something we had to decide. We weren't making a European film or a film for the European market. If it doesn't demand your humble participation, it's a work of exoticism, promoting the Safari culture. You sit in your safari jeep and gaze out on things that don't affect you. Because of its perspective, and the proximity of people and things, TBOK affects you.
I feel like a lot of African films draw people in but are still works of exoticism. It's also about who is around when you make the film? Who produces it? Who photographs it? Who edits it? Who distributes it, and who scores the film? Is it filmed from a third party perspective? We know production companies or coproduction partners can be very intrusive in the way African stories are told. This is because we still haven't establishedan African perspective yet, not just in cinema, but also in literature. These things still come from a white structure.
We always want to know how close we are to Mother France or Mother England. Will the work get accepted? Is my writing Shakespearean enough? We always worry about this. But when I look at Asian people, they couldn't give a damn. Indians couldn't give a damn. They do whatever they want, telling themselves just how they are, showing what they want, breaking off the song half-way through, performing the same old dance routines - they don't care!
Film can get us asking questions and gives us a chance to create something outside of the norm.

"We weren't making a European film or a film for the European market. If it doesn't demand your humble participation, it's a work of exoticism, promoting the Safari culture. You sit in your safari jeep and gaze out on things that don't affect you."

Djia Mambu: No public funds, no European money. How did you finance the film?
Blitz: I've been doing music for 10 years, but even my scant savings barely covered the budget. People make a film, not money. You need money so you can pay people to make the film but first you have to make the film. I don't need money if I have to convince somebody to make a film with me. In a western set-up, everything has to be bought. You buy people's time, people's energy, people's magic.
Using the African approach, I can negotiate people's energy as long as I can give them something back, which doesn't have to be money. As Africans, we possess so much that we are blind to so it diminishes. This Africanness is our superpower!
The reason why foreign productions have to stump up so much money is because they don't want to deal with people on a personal level. They want to purchase your time. You're their slave, until that time is over.

Djia Mambu: But even kindness, friendship or magical Africanness surely isn't enough to produce a feature-length movie? So how did you manage the financial aspect?
Blitz: From day one and the film's car burning scene, we didn't have a penny in our pocket. We made the film in almost 10 days with zero finances because funds I'd negotiated hadn't come through yet. We were staying in a hotel and couldn't pay; we'dbeen feeding 40 people. The amount we spent on four weeks of shooting TBOK would not even cover cast costs for most productions. Only in Africa could we shoot TBOK.
Eventually, we also had to do a Kickstarter which brought in $80,000, but again in the filmmaking industry, this is a drop in the ocean. It's like the fee that a DP commands.

Djia Mambu: How were people persuaded to join the project? What made people agree to join in?
Kobina Amissah-Sam : What I most love about the project is the story. My character (Kwabena) was a challenge. Blitz, for example, told me that I have to limp. So throughout the shooting period I started limping on one leg. It was a big problem: my character has a limp so I had to get it natural. We met on location before moving to the set - as soon as I stepped out the car I had to start walking that way. Some crew members even asked me if I genuinely had a limp and I told them I did, deliberately, to get into the character. Blitz led us on a lot of intensive training and rehearsals. I'venever smoked before but this character smokes, so I had to.

Blitz: I always told them, we're not acting this, we are living it. That became our MO. The guy who didn't know how to ride a bike, learned how to ride a bike, the mother who didn't know how to sew, she learned how to sew. These things were important because for me you have to live your role. Because of what I know I really pushedeverybody. I asked a lot in rehearsals. There was no way any movement could be false, no way the narrative could be false. It's too much work, too much to ask people to forget what they are, to become something else. I refuse to see a film on which we worked so hard turn into a failure. That's not a possibility when you think of what people have sacrificed.
I always told the actors "What would you actually do in this situation? Forget about the script. If you found out that your brother had done this, if you had to hit your brother, what would be going through your mind?"

Djia Mambu: That scene where Kojo (Joseph Otsiman) catches the cockroach and eats it. Is that for real? It recalls Leonard Di Caprio in The Revenant...
Blitz: I didn't actually write that. It wasn't in the script, nowhere. We almost cut it, but we had no idea he was going to do that. If we had done the same scene and cut stuff, it would have been completely different. You'd have thought that's a film set, of course they've cut it, he's pretending, it's not real, see? The cockroach came straight at him and he just picked it up and ate it! It was a choice he made because he knows how far we wanted to go. And incidentally, when we shot that scene, he hadn't eaten for three days. I hadn't noticed until we offered him food and he kept saying "Not right now, thanks". And you can tell from his physical hunger and that he is in real pain...

Djia Mambu: Really?! What kind of filmmaker are you?!
Blitz: I never asked for it! It was a belief that people had: this moment is going to live forever and hasn't been done before. So your actors give everything they've got. Take the TV novella scene, we shot a whole episode of the TV novella ourselves [DM: the little girl and her mom watch a novella on TV] because it was the only way to get it to fit the work. Another example is the wedding scene. We literally created a wedding, the entire community turned up and danced and drank. We painted the house, renovated the roof, and brought all the decorations necessary. It was a real wedding!

Boateng Kwaku Obenfo "Boat": The wedding scene was our final scene. We had zero cash by then, we'd had to leave the hotel. We arrived by night to be there at daybreak. When we'd finished setting up the scene, a huge storm rolled in. The sky was black. Torrential rain imminent. If it had rained, we wouldn't have been able to do anything and we couldn't stay because we had no money. So we'd have had to head out,come back the next day and start over. But we didn't even have money for that either!
We called Blitz's mum, like every time we had a situation. We were like, "Aunty Jane, we have this situation…" and she'd ask us to pray for a few minutes. And then she'd call back and ask: "So how are things now?" And we answered: "The sun is shining!"It was magic and every time the same! Things like that kept happening throughout the film. Some people might call it coincidence but...

Djia Mambu: You're better known as the musician Blitz The Ambassador. What brought you into films?
Blitz: I am a visual artist first and foremost; I then expanded into music and then into cinema. Storytelling is a common feature, but what is unique about film is that images can be enhanced and reach larger audiences. We need to create more images about us, images that humanize us as African people; it's something we haven't been doing or we haven't been allowed to do. Music is obviously not the best medium to achieve this goal and fine art is too limiting. I think film combines all these sensibilities. Of course it begins with the literature - you can't make a film without writing the plot.
I am very grateful for the whole journey. It has affected me deeply. Visual art taught me composition, the power of images. Music taught me redemption.

Djia Mambu

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   liens films

Enterrement de Kojo (L') - Burial of Kojo (The) 2018
Samuel "Blitz" Bazawule

   liens artistes

Abebrese Ama K.

Amissah-Sam Kobina

Bazawule Samuel "Blitz"

Dankwa Cynthia

DuVernay Ava

Obeng Boateng Kwaku

Otsiman Joseph


07/03/2019 > 17/03/2019
festival |États-Unis |
15th Annual New African Films Festival (NAFF 2019)
15ème édition.

15/03/2019 > 21/03/2019
festival |Égypte |
Luxor African Film Festival - LAFF 2019
8ème édition

22/08/2019 > 25/08/2019
festival |Suisse |
Festival cinémas d'Afrique - Lausanne 2019
14ème édtion LAUSANNE - 22 AU 25 août 2019.

19/09/2019 > 29/09/2019
festival |Allemagne |
Afrika Film Festival Koeln 2019
17ème édition. Focus : FONDAMENTALISME & MIGRATION. HAWA ESSUMAN est la Marraine du Festival 2019.

   liens structures

Africiné Magazine
Sénégal | Dakar

Array Releasing

Allemagne | MUNICH

États-Unis | Brooklyn, NY

États-Unis | LOS GATOS, Californie

Vanuit het Zuiden (Depuis le Sud)

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