Folk tales have always existed to give shape and meaning to the formless randomness of ordinary life, and to account for why certain occurrences — the death of a parent, the rejection of a lover, the rivalry between brothers — can have an impact on our psyches disproportionate to their un-mythic scale.
This is a function of storytelling brought to gloriously vivid, lyrical life by Ghana-born, Brooklyn-based Blitz Bazawule’s “The Burial of Kojo”. The film has done remarkably well since it’s release at the Urban World Film festival in New York last year. Earning the title of Best Narrative in world Cinema and even been released on Netflix.
Bazawule is also a musician, whose stage name is Blitz the Ambassador, and he composed the film’s score.
The movie opens with a simple, striking shot: a Volkswagen Beetle on a beach, burning as the tide laps its tires. The film’s narrator, Esi, speaking in English (the dialogue itself is mostly in Twi), talks of her father of a “dream that is not a dream.” She guides the viewer over a village built on water, with wooden stilts holding up the houses. She says that her birth “was supposed to bring prosperity and good fortune to my family.”
Around the time Esi is telling us of her father’s fondness for stories whose beginnings only make sense if you know how they end, an appropriately cryptic event sets her own story in motion: A blind man paddles up to Esi’s village and entrusts her with the care of a white “sacred bird” he says is being hunted by an evil crow.
The birds and the man hail “from the realm in-between,” a transitional place where everything is upside down — and in the film’s plentiful startling images, many will evoke this realm, sometimes inverting action that is mirrored by the lake, sometimes playing footage to make smoke or flame move, almost imperceptibly, backward.
The sites and conflicts that Bazawule depicts in “The Burial of Kojo” have broad social and political resonance. Among the hard specifics of Ghanaian life that he explores, is the economic colonialism perpetuated by newly arriving Chinese businesses.
He displays the petty corruption of the local police force and the corruption of higher levels of law enforcement by the new business interests proliferating in the country. He shows the contrast between the growing and modernizing city and the citizenry left to struggle desperately in its shadows—and the personal abuses and cruelties that poverty and despair incite.
The movie is truly a tale of rural Africa and it echoes this shamelessly. It’s release on Netflix is also a part of the streaming service’s aggressive efforts to diversify and increase their viewer base here on the African continent.
The likes of Beast of no nation, Lion heart and the more recently released Chief Daddy were also a part of this effort. It seems African cinema is entering a new age, slowly but certainly, as more movies of this caliber are released the impact of African cinema as a whole is likely to be positive.
In the end Africans can’t help but simply be ecstatic, their stories are finally getting the recognition they deserve and the world will finally hear their voice!