Day 5! On acres and acres of virgin land somewhere in Dabala (V/R), under the benevolent morning sun, there’s non-stop clanking of hammer on wood. The keen-faced squatting artisans swinging their arms in labour have been entrusted a singular task; one that evokes the Genesis 11 undertaking by humanity to raise a tower that kisses heaven.
Though slighter in scale, the architectural goal to erect an entire village from scratch still casts a daze on one’s face. So far, twelve tenements built with plywood, bamboo sticks, and corrugated roofing have been erected. By dusk, the number should go up to twenty.
The man who dreamt up this vision, also a keen-faced, silver—talking, blue polo shirted Peter Sedufia (honcho of OldFilm Productions, and renowned as director for the period piece Keteke starring Adjetey Anang and Lydia Forson in leading roles) hurries about the site, which will serve as the set for his next film, inspecting progress closely.
He is trailed by one of his creative companions for the day; a dark, bearded art director in possession of an open A3 sketchbook. They stop by one of the structures and engage in excited discussion on which angles entrances should face and which paint option will work best. Even if it is not yet fully tangible to the eye, the film is as vivid in his mind as the skies above and explains it with the single-mindedness of a man freshly in love. “This is the entrance, and this is the window,” points the bearded man at one of the sketches, giving his argument one last go.
Sedufia won’t budge. He appreciates the value on compromise in any creative collaboration “We’re trying to marry your ideas with mine,” however, the houses, he reiterates, should all face a particular direction, seeing as they are central to the film. The bearded man flips over another page and puts in another pitch. “I like this better,” Sedufia nods finally.
It doesn’t end things. Twenty minutes of dialogue follows, and then they proceed to one of the rooms. They stroll about multiple times, stopping by this window, or that door, fine-tuning their scheme. This goes on for hours.
Yards away, a drone ascends, its pilot alternating his gaze between the controller in his hands, and the flying contraption several feet overhead. Due to the enormity of the project, it has already drawn massive traction, including a visit by the BBC, whose drone is buzzing above.
Following the 2017 release of Keteke to critical acclaim, Sedufia disclosed via Facebook weeks ago, that he was moved to do a new film which would require creating “an entire world and community” for.
“The plan was to film in 2018, but, I couldn’t for the lack of resources and funding. So, I resorted to making a much less expensive movie [Sidechic Gang].” In 2019, after partnering with colleague Kofi Asamoah on the star-studded comedy, Away Bus, Sedufia returned to the idea, which would require the erection of “about 100 houses and with about 200 cast and 50 crew members.”
In considering a location for the film, per the advice of the Art and Sound departments [Sedufia and his team] settled on the bare land to start construction from scratch” over “an already existing community that’s quite similar to what [his outfit] want to create. We [would only have had] to add a few structures to use as our live sets. The challenge with this location, however, was bad sound as a result of quarry and mining activities close to the area.”
Sedufia intends to unveil the title of this grand undertaking which has been shrouded in ample secrecy thus far on September 5 (he has teased three letters so far: 2 As and an E). Naa Ashorkor, Kofi Adjorlolo, Rhoda Ampene, Alexandra Ayirebi- Acquah, Aaron Adatsi, Solomon Fixon-Owoo, Nana Ama McBrown, Zynnell Zuh, and Dulcie Tetteh have also been named for the film, for which the first phase of production commences next month.
There are no further clues.
“This is how I envisioned the particular story. There’s a world of its own that certain things happen in, and so if I have this fictional world, I have to create it.”
Beyond achieving specific things for the film, Sedufia discloses: “we are looking at using these structures for future projects if possible, and talking to other filmmakers who might be interested in doing similar things to come and have a look to see if it’s something they can build upon or change certain things just to create a unique identity for their own film,” Otherwise, they are looking to donate the set to the homeless in the peaceful farming community.
Because of the widespread success Sedufia achieved with Keteke, his debut offering as a filmmaker, expectations are higher for him, even if they are relaxed for other filmmakers. “That’s interesting to hear,” he smiles while remaining adamant that he’s unruffled by the pressure he has courted by the brilliance of his own previous work. “Those things don’t get to me,” he says, though he’s “appreciative” of the keen anticipation that heralds his releases—something he notes is the desire of every artist. “I just feel that I’m still in my space, doing the film as best as I can, so they [patrons] can enjoy it. But if I allow expectations of what I’m going to be doing to move me, I may be rushing to just satisfy their expectations, and could mess up the whole thing—and the same people who were expecting me to do something great will come back and tell me ‘this was off.’ And so, I try to be in my corner and do things at my own pace and in my own time.”
Aside being a talented writer/director, Sedufia is also gaining repute for his propensity to take on the ground-breaking. Completed, the Dabala project indubitably will rank high among radical works by a Ghanaian filmmaker, and could effectively entrench his legacy. Thus, is it not especially remarkable that Mr Sedufia has already conceived the film after this? Though he won’t reveal anything about it, one thing is constant, it’s “another crazy one.”
And how does one go about selling “crazy” ideas to people with whom he will work to bring it to fruition, when said people may never see the idea with precise perspective as its dreamer?
Sedufia readily admits that it’s a “tough challenge.”
“Sometimes, it’s very frustrating to be the only person with the idea in head. You just wish you could open your head for everyone to see the picture you’re trying to paint. And so, you have to go the extra mile to explain to everybody, because they’re not in your head.” It is what accounts for Sedufia’s heavy involvement in every detail on set. Sometimes, even though the creatives he engages have a fair idea of what the vision is, he wants to be sure that they “see it from [his] perspective, even though you’re adding yours to it.” It doesn’t mean he’s a tyrant on set, but “the only way I can be sure that you are in tune,” he says, is to maintain a regular presence, lest he comes back to a work totally different from originally envisioned.
Sedufia doesn’t fight being tagged as possessing “outrageous ideas.” And, he’s seldom discouraged. Why?
“I have a plan for everything I’m doing,” he shoots.
If a given project doesn’t happen at a given time, there’s always a fall-back plan. “So, I ask myself: ‘what if the set you’re constructing doesn’t happen? Is that the end of your 2019?”
Of course not.
“I have some films I can just resort to; which will also be fantastic anyway. There’s always a Plan B after the bigger vision.”
Sedufia had originally intended for the film to be carried out in 2018, but financial hurdles forced him to shelve it for some time and focus on other projects. Hence Sidechic Gang et al, which Sedufia notes were also good on their own, though the investment would not be on the same level.
“Even though I can never say I have enough money to do the film, I cannot let this story die, because ideas transcend. In two or three years, someone may dream this same vision, and make it first […]. Once this idea is unique to me, I must also make an effort to make it happen.”
A diligent servant to these ideas, Sedufia and his squadron of creative disciples, who mostly reside in Accra, will continue to make the two-hour journey to Dabala multiple times a week, acclimatising to its 90% humidity and coordinates till 2020, when the film is scheduled to be released.