The Politics of Past Visions: Decolonization, historical praxis and Ghana’s celluloid film archive

One of the most important goals in politics is capturing people’s imaginations of what change looks like. This lesson was not lost on the politicians that led the continent’s emancipatory and modernizing projects of decolonization in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah believed film was central to achieving this goal of inspiring popular belief in his vision for the future. To this end, he established Anglophone Africa’s first and most extensive postcolonial film industry as a key pillar of his project to politically transform the country and Africa at large.
This political project, however, came to a dramatic end when Nkrumah was removed from office by a military coup in 1966: his filmmakers were sacked and the industry was stripped of its funding. In the years that followed, Ghana’s celluloid film archives were left to rot or destroyed. This paper explores the archival practices and innovations that can be used to explore this lost history. In doing so, I share an approach to the historical practice of film history rooted in a collaboration with a new generation of African artists, filmmakers and archivists who are reckoning with history in their own emancipatory projects. To this end, we creatively re-imagine what the film archive is and what it can be.

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