With over 25 years of directing and producing documentaries in the arts and culture sector, award-winning filmmaker Yaba Badoe is best known for her 2010 acclaimed documentary The Witches of Gambaga. The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo is her latest documentary project, which charts the life of one of African’s foremost woman writers. We spoke to Ms Badoe to find out more about the film and her decision to create a film exploring the artistic contribution of Ama Ata Aidoo.
After obtaining a second degree at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, I got a job as a General Trainee with the BBC. This means that I was trained in radio and television production. I then started working on television documentaries as a researcher and Assistant Producer before I began to direct documentaries. In 1988, after completing a series of four documentaries I directed about race and racism in the city of Bristol – Black and White – I decided to leave the BBC and go freelance. In 2010 with the support of like-minded friends, I set up an NGO, Fadoa Films, which aims to make films by African women about African women.
I work in film because it’s a fantastic tool for social change. It has the power to change peoples’ thoughts and feelings and can be used effectively for advocacy.
How did the concept for ‘The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo’ come about? What was your motivation to focus your latest project on Ama Ata Aidoo?
My particular interest has always leant towards making documentaries that explore themes that are pertinent to the developing world, and especially themes that are relevant to African women. My last film, The Witches of Gamabaga, which I co-produced with scholar and activist, Amina Mama, is used for advocacy all over Africa and is shown to every student at the University of Ghana.
Perhaps due to being a writer myself, I thought it would be interesting to do a series of films about African women writers – women writers of an older generation and also the new generation of writers that are making quite a name for themselves. I spoke with my friends, Amina Mama and Abena Busia about the idea of doing a series. And so, during an African feminist forum in Dakar in 2010, we came together, brainstormed and devised the concept for a series. As we found it difficult to secure funding for a series, we decided to focus on one writer. It just seemed obvious that Ama Ata Aidoo would be a wonderful writer to begin with as she is one of the great pioneers of African women’s writing. She’s also someone we all know. Amina is Nigerian, and Abena and I are Ghanaian. I approached Ama Ata and she agreed to be the first of what we hope will be a series that celebrates the alternative histories Africa women writers tell.
How did you meet Professor Aidoo?
I first met Ama Ata Aidoo through friends who know her well. I then met her at a wonderful New Years party in Accra. A mutual friend suggested I interview Ama Ata for a website he’d recently set up, so I started reading her work in earnest to prepare for the interview. I loved what I read – her short stories No Sweetness Here and the novel, Changes: a Love Story. I wrote a feature for my friend’s website and for the magazine African Agenda about Ama Ata Aidoo. When Amina, Abena and I decided to concentrate on a single writer for our series, African Women Writing, Ama Ata Aidoo was the obvious choice.
Were there any challenges making the documentary?
The biggest challenge in making any documentary is finding the money to complete it to a professional standard. The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) has been fantastic.They provided us with a grant for the first part of our filming in Ghana. We were also given seed money by USA for Africa and Abigail E Disney and Fork Films.
We started filming The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo in January 2012. Ama Ata Aidoo took us to her ancestral village in the Central Region of Ghana, where we filmed her with a story telling group she’d set up. We filmed and interviewed her at her father’s house and then when we returned to Accra and filmed her at the University of Ghana, Legon, where her first play – the Dilemma of a Ghost – was performed. We then spent a whole day interviewing her about her life and work.
In May of the same year, we received another grant from the AWDF, which enabled us to travel to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where a colloquium was being held in honor of Ama Ata Aidoo. Thanks to encouragement and financial support from a friend of ours, Margo Okazawa-Rey, in Novemember 2013 we launched The Art of Ama Aidoo webiste and organised a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $45,000 towards completing the documentary. Margo led our campaign. It was a huge success. Not only did we exceed our target, the buzz we created helped us obtain more funding from the AWDF, the Global Fund for Women, Nigerian philanthropist Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Rashid Davari Post Production, Rutgers University Department of Women & Gender Studies & Center for African Studies and Pathways of Women’s Empowerment, RPC, at the University of Sussex.
Since April, I’ve been editing the documentary with film editor, Rashid Davari. We completed the film a week ago.
As well as a poet and novelist, you describe Prof Aidoo as a feminist. What does feminism mean to you and how does this relate to Prof Aidoo?
I think there’s tremendous value in hearing women’s voices – recording women’s testimonies and weaving them into a film. The process of documenting and disseminating women’s experiences validates our lives by making us the ‘subject’. It also opens up debates and leaves an important archival record for future generations. I hope that The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo will be an inspiration to everyone who watches it – African women especially. To listen to a great artist talking about her work, her background, motivation and inspiration may encourage others to participate in the cultural sphere. Most importantly, it should lead to a greater appreciation of Ama Ata Aidoo’s work and what it takes to be a successful cultural activist.
Why did you think it was important to tell professor Aidoo’s story now?
I think it’s really important to celebrate the lives of writers and artists while they’re alive. Ama Ata Aidoo was the first African women to have a play pulished in Europe. She’s a poet, playwright, essayist and novelist. She’s phenomenally talented and has been an inspiration and trailblazer for generations of African women writers. I believe that if we don’t tell our own stories and celebrate our heroes, no one else will.
So what’s next for the documentary?
Now that we’ve finished editing the film, Amina and I will be launching The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo with the support of the AWDF in Accra in the middle of September. We’ll then submit the film to film festivals around the world and distribute the documentary through the sale of DVDs.
Image Source: Fadoa Films
Special Thanks to Yaba Badoe and Fadoa films for making this interview possible. ‘The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo’, will be launching in Accra, Ghana in a few weeks, check the official Facebook page to learn more and stay updated.
Image Source: Fadoa Films