Thursday, 10 November 2011

An African Election

Jarreth Merz's documentary is an eye-opening account of the 2008 democratic election in Ghana between Attila Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party.

While the film at the start is complicit in making clear that both parties are offering the same thing in a clever use of the world of agriculture.  Although many admit that if the distribution of wealth is not occuring, if people are still without work and do not know when the next meal is coming from then democracy is meaningless.

Once the voting starts on election Sunday, the film does really kick into gear.  Long lines begin to form and people are queueing for up to and beyond 10 hours to cast their vote.  Whilst this delays the declaration of victory for the eventual victorious party, with a run-off being declared by the electoral commission; you do get a sense of the importance of this democratic decision being taken by the country. 

Ghana was the first country in Africa to gain independence from the Commonwealth in 1957, but the continued troubles of politics especially during the military coup of Jerry Rawlings in 1979 led to an uprising of violence yet Rawlings remains as an ideological icon in Ghana (his presence here reminds you of Orson Welles in his formidable ability to control you with his grasp of the English language), he his allowed to indulge in a monologue about the influence of foreign terrorist in Ghana (namely American CIA operatives before and during the Cold War) and liking them as fighting a war on terror long before 9/11.

The run-off and this fly-on-the-wall document of the hustings does become exhilarating as both parties accuse the other of political shenanigans and chicanery, this is presented by the playful banter between party agents Rojo Mettle and Kwabena Agyepong, who seem more approachable than the party leaders.

Merz spent his childhood in Ghana, and the film is like a return home for him to understand his country better.  The honest assessments by everyday people are balanced with the talking head deliveries by politicians, analysts and journalists offering objective and subjective viewpoints and opinions.

It is rare to see a documentary that starts off as an educational platform to display an alternative election descend into a gripping and intense account of a country at war with itself to gain political integrity on a world scale, critics may say that he fails to show precisely at stake when really that is the failure of the candidates inability to distinguish themselves as individual when they are really wanting the same thing.  Politics it seems is the same wherever in the world.

An African Election is released on November 25th from Dogwoof Pictures and will be playing at the Empire, Leicester Square (to the 1st December) and Edinburgh Filmhouse (2nd-4th December)

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