PARIS, May 18 2023 (IPS)
Some movie scenes keep replaying in one’s mind long after one has left the cinema, and this is certainly true of Moon Over Aburi, a short film shot in Ghana that has been gaining accolades since its release earlier this year.
Based on a story by the prize-winning Ghanaian-Jamaican writer and poet Kwame Dawes, the film addresses subjects such as sexual abuse, society’s view of women’s roles, and the gender-based perspectives from which experiences are recalled and retold. It will have a special screening this month at the prestigious Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica (May 26-28), and while viewers can expect to be moved by the whole story, they will be haunted by one stunning, unexpected scene.
In its minimalist mise-en-scène, Moon Over Aburi is reminiscent of a play, with two main actors in the spotlight, or rather the moonlight, playing off each other – Ghanaian-British actress Anniwaa Buachie and her Ghanaian compatriot Brian Angels (whose credits include the 2015 feature Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba).
Buachie plays a mysterious woman, the owner of a small food kiosk who seems tied to something in her past. Angels plays the man who visits the kiosk on a moonlit night and asks for a meal. As the two exchange cryptic words and stories, it becomes clear that the man knows more about her than he lets on, and the colossal secret she carries is gradually revealed, as enigmatic shots of the full moon emphasise the mystique.
Buachie, who produced the film and co-directed (with Sheila Nortley), has a background in both cinema and theatre, having performed at London’s Old Vic and other venues. She has also appeared in guest roles in popular television series such as Eastenders. But making Moon Over Aburi was not a shoo-in for her, she says. She and her team had to overcome certain obstacles for the work to see the light of day – because in a world where the number of films seems to be ever growing, only a selected few filmmakers acquire the resources to pursue their art.
In the following, edited, interview, Buachie speaks with SWAN about the film’s journey to the screen.
SWAN: Moon Over Aburi is a shocking, thought-provoking film that is beautifully made. How did it come about?
Anniwaa Buachie: As an actor, I provided the voice of the audiobook in the anthology Accra Noir, edited by Nana Ama Danquah [and published by New York-based publisher Akashic Books]. I fell in love with the story Moon Over Aburi by Kwame Dawes.
I remember when I started reading this story, I immediately had goose bumps. The story was honest, visceral, poetic, chilling… a dance of cat and mouse between two people, a man and woman, secret and lies, making one question whether two wrongs can make a right.
It sat with me, it was in my heart, my mind, my body. I had never read a story that highlighted the vicious cycle of domestic violence, but also explored how a woman ruthlessly and unapologetically takes back her power.
Society tends to excuse the faults of a man and blame the women in that man’s life. The woman who raised him, the woman who married him, the woman who rejected him. Power is given to a woman to birth and nurture a child, yet it is taken from her as soon as she seeks equality, acknowledgement, and respect. It is a story that pushes the brutal subject matter of domestic violence into the light, a much-needed conversation that often lies in the shadow, swept under the carpet. I had to bring this story to light.
SWAN: What were some of the challenges in adapting the short story to suit the demands of a different medium, film?
A.B.: Kwame Dawes’ writing is beautiful, lyrical and poetic, and it was important to me to ensure that the film produced stayed true to the mystical element of the original.
Many stories are written in the first person, and the reader already is biased as they often
attach themselves to the main narrator / protagonist. However, with Moon Over Aburi, Kwame had already written it in a dialogue format. The story was a script in the first instance, so adapting it to film was a joy, to be honest.
What was tricky was deciding how much detail to pack from a 20-page short story into a 10-page script. The world that Kwame had created was so intricate, intimate through words, and heavily reliant on the reader’s interpretation. However, with a screenplay, you have to make definitive decisions and find ways to utilise camera shots, sounds, and the colour palette to influence the viewer’s perspective.
Film also demands a particular structure that a short story can forego. Screenplays require scenes that establish each character and a clear breaking point in the middle of the script that take characters to the emotional extreme – into fight or flight mode. The audience needs to be taken on an emotional ride, and this is influenced by the whole creative team: producer, director, cinematographer, etc.
Personally, it was a challenge for me to maintain a balance between being an actor and being the producer, and co-directing.
The actor inside me wanted to play forever and fully immerse myself in the character. However, there was a part of my brain that, as the producer, always had to be focused on the practicalities, thinking about if the budget is being used effectively, if everyone is happy on set, if cast and crew have been fed and have what they need to maintain a high quality!
Also, once a film project is done, an actor can switch off and think about their next project, whereas the role of the filmmaker doesn’t stop there – now it’s about implementing, marketing, sourcing additional finance, distribution. Good thing I am a great multi-tasker!
SWAN: The shots of the landscape, the moon, and the setting overall, are artistic and evocative. Can you tell us more about the photography and where it took place?
A.B.: The story takes place in the Aburi, the eastern region of Ghana, and in Accra, the main city. Whilst the story leaves room for the imagination, I am so thankful to Ghanaian-based cinematographer extraordinaire Apag Annankra of Apag Studios and art director Godwin Sunday Ashong. Their knowledge of the neighbourhood and the scenery enabled us to find places within Aburi and Accra that provide a magical realism.
A.B.: It is important to me, as an artist, to present situations that encourage conversations, a reflection of self and to identify how one contributes or blocks the development of girls and women. The best teaching is when the viewer has space for analysis themselves, as opposed to being force fed an opinion.
I simply ensure that the films I produce have in-depth perspectives, of extreme impactful situations, drawing the viewer in on an emotional, human level.
SWAN: What are some of the difficulties in making a film without major studio backing, and are things changing?
A.B.: Budget. A studio-backed film would have a large budget and with that the creative team has space to make mistakes, to experiment, to spend hours on a scene taking multiple shots. With a big budget you can secure your ideal location, block off streets and build a set if needs be, to get the right look for the film.
Whereas when you are working on an independent or a low budget, everything you do has to be specific, and with the right intention, because the repercussions are greater. Planning is key, and ensuring everyone in the crew and cast understands the overall vision of the film is important. There cannot be a weak link, everyone needs to work together to bring their A-game. You cannot go back and re-shoot, money is tight, which also means time is limited. You just have one chance to make sure you get the right shots, the right lighting, etc.
I do think things are changing but not quickly enough. Independent filmmaking is an art that is not given the same respect as the big studio movies and TV. Which is a shame, because independents are a great way to platform new and upcoming talent and inject society with stories that are often forgotten, hidden, or discarded. But nowadays the art of filmmaking is more about the return on investment, and for that reason independent filmmaking is always a risk, but that is what makes it exhilarating and rewarding… if you make people’s heads turn in an age where attention is so competitive, you know you have something really special.
SWAN: What do you hope viewers will take away from Moon?
A.B.: This film focuses on giving attention to overlooked narratives, concerning social issues such as: gender-based violence, misogyny and gender inequality, which shroud many cultures. It will open doors to a diverse audience offering intelligent insight into the social and political consciousness of the invisible and the marginalised. While this story is in a fiction anthology, it is a reality that most women face. Through the screenings, I am hoping viewers can identify how cultural constructs contribute to the way in which women are viewed, and how this can change, how this MUST change and, ultimately, that it’s down to us, the new generation to take control and rewrite the social narrative. A narrative that allows us, me, as a woman, to learn from the present, and construct a future that uplifts gender equality, suppresses elitism, and eradicates poverty. This is the foundation of social cohesion and the start of a new African legacy.
SWAN: What’s next for you?
A.B.: Kwame and I are touring with this short in many film festivals in the UK, Ghana, and the States as well, developing Moon Over Aburi into a full feature and exploring production companies and talent. Personally, I have my show coming out on the BBC (teen drama Phoenix Rise), and I have a couple other things in the works that I can’t announce yet, but it’s an exciting time! – SWAN