What you need to know:
- It is no secret that religion has become big business in a continent where spirituality and superstition plays an extraordinary role in the lives of many people.
- One of the Africa's most acclaimed filmmakers has made the emergence of dubious churches the subject of his first film in almost 25 years.
- In the two-hour long film, Ghollywood heartthrob Ecow Smith-Asante plays Prophet Gabriel, a smooth talking, and money-loving preacher with an eye on exploiting needy followers.
Why is heaven so expensive for the poor on earth,” a voice in the film asks.
“Must the devil be blamed for all our challenges or does man of God sometimes praise Satan to satisfy his own needs?”
"Must the poor for fear of Satan’s hell give away the little they earn and wait for reward in heaven?”
It is no secret that religion has become big business in a continent where spirituality and superstition plays an extraordinary role in the lives of many people.
The wealth and conspicuous consumption of some modern day church leaders has drawn cynicism amongst many faithful.
One of the Africa's most acclaimed filmmakers has made the emergence of dubious churches the subject of his first film in almost 25 years.
Legendary Ghanaian director Kwaw Ansah, best remembered for his 1980 blockbuster Love Brewed in an African Pot, says his story was motivated by the proliferation of preachers, especially in his own country, whose real intentions are to dupe gullible believers with promises of heaven on earth.
The leaders of these churches arrogate themselves titles such as apostle, prophet or bishop or sometimes a combination of those.
In the two-hour long film, Ghollywood heartthrob Ecow Smith-Asante plays Prophet Gabriel, a smooth talking, and money-loving preacher with an eye on exploiting needy followers.
One such person is the character played by Ama Abebrese, a married woman who ends up being raped by the self-proclaimed prophet.
The director, as if acknowledging the sensitivity of capturing rape on camera and how that is likely to be received by audiences, says the scene is symbolic of how some churchmen are raping the conscience of individuals and society as a whole, with their evil schemes.
He explains: “There is physical rape, but moral rape is utter wickedness. All sorts of churches are springing up these days because some characters have realised that using the name of God can be an easy route to riches and uncensored pleasure”.
Eddie Nartey plays the role of Apostle Joshua, who gathers information on potential targets who are desperate for answers to problems like women struggling to have children.
He passes such information to the prophet, who in turn visits such a person as if by divine revelation.
Ansah says he deals with the topic of false prophets to make people aware of their existence and the devious ploys they use to swindle people.
“Many people are not thinking for themselves anymore. They must consult their pastors on every little thing about their lives,” said the director during the premier of the film at Ghana's National Theatre in Accra on September 15.
“We have become more and more gullible and some smart folks are taking advantage to defraud us,” he says.
“We have genuine pastors and those who are in it just for money. If it is business, let us know it is business.”
It was a near tragedy that inspired Ansah to take on the church in the way that he has in this film.
A 10-year-old actress who was the member of the cast in another production by the director fell ill and was taken to prayer camp.
When Ansah got to know about this from the girl’s mother, he rushed her to the hospital where tests revealed that it was a case of food poisoning.
“We almost lost a very promising talent because her parents took her to a pastor instead of seeking treatment,” says an angry Ansah.
For Abebrese, an actress who also works as a TV presenter and was the winner of Best Actress Award at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards, the experience of being directed by Ansah, whom she calls a legend, is a dream come true.
Former President of Ghana John Kufuor, who attended the premier of Ansah's film, said the themes chosen by the director always concerned pertinent social issues and laid them down for public debate.
Kwaw Paintsil Ansah was born in 1941 in Ghana and studied theatre design in London, where he first became interested in film production.
From 1963 to 1965, he studied Performing Arts at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and participated in some theatre productions among African student groups in New York.
In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and gained firsthand experience, working at the R.K.O Studios.
On his return to Ghana, Ansah found work in commercial film and TV before starting his own production company, Film Africa Limited in Accra in 1977.
His iconic film; Love Brewed in an African Pot, a story of the clash between indigenous traditions and European influences in pre-independence Ghana, was a major hit across many English-speaking African countries when released in 1980.
The film won several awards at the 1981 Pan African Film Festival (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It was also honoured at the Unesco Film Prize in France in 1985 and other international awards ceremonies.
Ansah’s second film Heritage Africa was released in 1988 and won the grand prize at FESPACO the next year.
Since then, he has concentrated on making documentaries and campaigning for funding and distribution of African films within the continent itself as chairperson of the Federation of African Filmmakers (FEPACI).
A firm believer in the African contribution to world culture, Ansah has always stated that as a filmmaker, he tells stories of cultural revitalisation to counter foreign cultural intrusions and interventions.
His new film has been a long time coming because of several challenges. “It was a struggle, not of creativity, but resources.”
“At one point, I had to commit my father in-law’s house as collateral to get a loan, and you know that means that I could have lost both the property and my wife.”
The financial burden took a toll on Ansah’s health and he even ended up in hospital.
Happily, the grand old man of African film is now back to doing what has made him an iconic figure over the last four decades.
This story was first run in the East African