An African Election

23 Nov

Jarreth Merz‘s documentary “An African Election” comes out in cinemas across the UK on 25th November – http://dogwoof.com/films/an-african-election

With such a provocative title, we had to find out more!

Read on to find out what motivated Jarreth to make this documentary, some of the challenges, influences and motivations.

What motivated you to make this documentary?

The film started off as my personal journey to reconcile with my African heritage, which I had neglected over the years living in he West. I was keen on reconnecting with my roots and also wanted to know how the country in which I had spent my childhood had evolved. I left Ghana in 1980 and had never been back since. The elections became the vessel to undertake this journey by looking behind the scenes to understand contemporary politics in Ghana, which determine stability and progress of any nation but especially so in African countries. I realized that nobody had ever looked behind the scenes of an African election on film so I thought I should be the one to document it.  I was also tired of the preconceived ideas and perceptions of Africa!

What are some of the key themes you would like people to take away from watching this documentary?

I want people to be aware of the fact that true democracy lives in Africa and that we must talk about the success stories just as much as we tend to talk about the failures. We must not take democracy for granted, not even Ghana’s success story because democracy in Africa is still a fragile creature that needs constant nurturing. Democracy is a learning process.

The election was in 2008, and for some the issues could be deemed out dated, why is the film being released in 2011/2012?

It took us more than a year to edit the 220 hours of film that we filmed. Our goal was to make a comprehensive feature about the complexities involved in the election and time was of essence. We live in a rushed world where we tend to overlook the reality surrounding us and this keeps haunting us, so it was important for us to let the film develop and I felt the only deadline would be the impending 2012 elections, so actually the timing is perfect, especially considering the political atmosphere and climate in Africa, I mean look at Kenya, Libya, Egypt, it speaks for itself, no?!

You interviewed and had close up footage of some extremely prominent figures and heated situations, what was the process of gaining access and confidence?

We arrived well ahead of time in Ghana and made sure that we spent time with all political players so they could get used to us and that we could build trust. Our family has been in Ghana for centuries, which made it easier to call upon political players because they knew my parents and our family history, which is embedded in the Ashanti culture.

When you think of the process of making this documentary what are two things that make you smile?

I still cannot believe that we pulled it off given the tiny budget that was at our disposal, I am proud that we made the film look like a full blown feature documentary that can compete on a very challenging market. I also have to smile thinking of what I put my film crew through, they must have thought I was out of my mind, I want to thank them for not giving up on me!

What were two of the main challenges to making this documentary?

Finding the funds to make the film and logistics on the ground. Shooting in Africa requires good preparation and you always have to be prepared for the unpredictable. Gaining the trust of the people was critical to the success of the film and took a lot of patience.

What was your experience of accessing resources in Ghana, e.g. filming equipment, skilled professionals?

Ghana has wonderful professionals but it is an uphill battle for my colleagues there because their work is not seen as equal to other professions, it is at times taken for granted. Nonetheless they are there, all the talented filmmakers but they deserve more support from the government and their communities!

As a documentary maker – what do you feel is your role?

To tell stories that show the full picture into worlds you would never be able to access on your own. It is to open new doors and to widen our horizon. It comes with a great responsibility.

What are two of your favourite documentaries?

When We Were Kings and Glorious Exit

Who are two of your favourite documentary makers?

There are so many out there that deserve to be mentioned but let’s say that my brother Kevin Merz and Leon Gast belong to my top 10.

What were the first steps you took to becoming a documentary maker?

It started with understanding the power of reality versus fiction. A documentary is a glimpse of reality whereas fiction is a recreation of it. I love both but documentaries at their best will bring about awareness and possibly social change where needed.

What single piece of advice would you give an aspiring documentary maker?

Never take no as an answer!

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One Response to “An African Election”

  1. Parinita Master December 18, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    It’s nice to see this site is finally getting the attention that it deserves! Keep up the good work.

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