Tonight at 6:30 PM at the Bytowne Cinema Africa’s most famed investigative reporter, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, takes us deep undercover for his own brand of brazen journalism in the Ottawa Premiere screening of the 2014 feature documentary: CHAMELEON
Anas has been called the James Bond of Ghanaian journalism. He’s exposed a sex-trafficking ring by masquerading as a bartender, uncovered deplorable conditions in Accra’s psychiatric hospital, posed as a crown prince in order to bypass a rebel checkpoint. His unorthodox methods are infamous throughout Ghana, but, despite his notoriety, his face is unknown to the public. The film takes us behind the scenes of the Tiger Eye Investigations Bureau hot on the heels of his next big case.
We sat down with the Canadian Director of CHAMELEON Ryan Mullins to chat about his film, film-making, and the nature of Investigative Journalism:
OWFF: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. How did you first hear about Anas Aremeyaw Anas?
RM: I first heard about Anas in 2012 A friend living in Ghana sent me an article about the ‘James Bond of journalism’. At the time, I was looking for my next documentary idea and really wanted to do something in Ghana, where I made my first short film. My friend had gone to law school with Anas and was willing to arrange the first contact. We initially talked very briefly over Skype. He was working on a new story at the time, and he wasn’t comfortable divulging the particulars to someone he hadn’t met. So a few weeks later I boarded a plane to Accra with my camera and some sound equipment, on route to meet him for the first time, not really knowing what to expect.
How do you think the style of Investigative Journalism practiced by Anas differs from the type of Investigative Journalism practiced in North America?
I think that journalists in North America are beholden to stricter ethical standards. While in principle that sounds like a good thing, I think it can sometimes undercut a journalist’s instinct. Anas’ methodology is basically that the ends justify the means and he’s willing to cross those ethical lines and be criticized for it. Though, if we were to look at one of the biggest stories to break last year, The Rob Ford/Crack scandal, we would think that surreptitious journalistic methods are alive and well in Canada.
In what other ways does Anas make a compelling subject?
Beyond being a vigilante crime fighting journalist, I think he embodies a generation of young Africans we don’t often see portrayed in the media. He’s intelligent, educated and very much in tune with what’s going on in the world. He’s an empowering figure, who is both charismatic and at times a bit vain. So his motivations aren’t necessarily clear and that makes him a much more compelling character.
Does his deliberate anonymity regarding his true identity takes away from his journalistic integrity or makes him unaccountable?
I think that there are two aspects to him concealing his identity. There are legitimate security threats to his personal safety and there is also Anas constructing a persona, a super-hero like character who hides in the shadows. At the end of the day, he has made himself part of the story and that’s what people are drawn to and want to read about. But despite his face being unrecognizable, Anas is held accountable by his peers and, I think, to some extent, the public who expect a certain amount of rigor and fact checking in his reporting.
What have been the reactions so far from the audiences who have seen the film?
Reactions have been really positive. We had Anas come to the Canadian premiere at Hot Docs in April, which was incredible. He likes to be asked the tough ethical questions from the audience. I fare less well than him when put on the spot! But I hope that the audience can glimpse a different perspective on modern day Africa, one that we don’t normally get to see portrayed in the media.
Anas wears a lot of disguises in his work. Do you have a favorite disguise of his?
His rock disguise gets the best reaction from people who have seen the film. He devotes a lot of energy to becoming the ‘part’ for the story. He once grew his hair out for a year for an investigative piece. I shot the documentary over two years so you can see in the film his hair gradually getting longer!
Your first short documentary film as director in 2009 ‘Volta‘ follows the story of a crumbling art deco cinema nestled in the outskirts of rural Ghana that is now home to a mission school for children from the nearby Muslim community. Is Ghana and its people/its culture, a subject that is close to your heart?
I was awarded a journalism scholarship from Concordia University in 2008, on the basis of starting an international journalism project. My wife had worked in Ghana prior and really got me excited about launching my project there, which was teaching kids in a remote village new media skills. I spent six months in the Volta region, which is where I first discovered the Volta cinema. I fell in love with the place and people and since then I was constantly looking for a reason to go back and make another film.
What is it like shooting films in Ghana?
It depends on where you want to shoot in Ghana. With Volta, I was filming in rural towns and most people were generally excited to be a part of the process. Filming in Accra is a bit more complicated because there are police and government buildings, which are off limits. People are also more skeptical of the media, which I think is a fair considering how often Africa is misrepresented in the news. Anas does open many doors though, so I had much more access when filming with him.
You directed your first feature documentary in 2011 ‘The Frog Princes‘ which was about the behind-the-scenes efforts of a special needs theatre troupe, as they work to mount an ambitious play adaptation of the fairytale ‘The Princess and the Frog’. Is giving a voice to people outside the dominate culture something you enjoy doing?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a conscious effort. But I do think that it’s something that has been a point of interest in my films. I think that groups outside the dominant culture tend to get misrepresented in the media. And so I’ve tried to keep that in mind when making my films, throughout the shooting process and then in the editing room.
How did you get started in the film industry?
It’s wasn’t a straight and narrow path. I did a lot of odd jobs while making short films on the side… and still do. I studied film in CEJEP and University but it wasn’t until Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin opened their doors at Eyesteelfilm to me that I got schooled in documentary film. They mentored me, I got to work on other films in various capacities, and eventually they produced The Frog Princes, which I co-directed with Omar Majeed.
What did you do before you got involved in film?
Like I mentioned, I did a lot of different jobs. I worked as a substitute teacher for a little while. Even while I was directing The Frog Princes I was working as replacement gym teacher at an elementary school. But I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, since high school. And so I would make my own short films, volunteer on other peoples films. My early films are hard to look at now, from a technical standpoint. But it helped to just keep working and I started to get better at it.
When did you first become interested in the documentary film genre?
I took a film class in CEJEP. Most of the stuff I made was short fiction, mob movies, horror… really bad stuff. I made one documentary about the Fauna Foundation, a [Canadian] sanctuary for biomedical research chimpanzees. I loved making it and it turned out to be the best thing I made all year.
What are some favorite documentaries you have seen?
I really like what the Ross Brothers are doing right now. ‘Tchoupitoulas‘ was one of my favorites in the past few years. I’m also inspired by the greats: ‘Harlan County USA‘, ‘Gimme Shelter‘, ‘The Street‘.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working as an editor on a new film by Daniel Cross about old blues musicians in Louisiana and Mississippi. It’s great!
What advice would you give aspiring documentarians and film makers?
I haven’t been doing this that long, so I tend to listen to what others have to say. Michael Moore gave a great keynote at TIFF last year that really echoes my own sentiments about documentary. One skill that I would suggest all aspiring filmmakers know how to do is video edit.
LAUNCH OF OTTAWA’S 26TH ANNUAL ONE WORLD FILM FESTIVAL featuring a PREVIEW OF THE 2015 PROGRAM and the OTTAWA PREMIERE OF ‘CHAMELEON’
Date: Thursday, September 10, 2015
Time: 6:00-7:00PM OWFF 2015 Festival Preview, 7:00-8:30PM Ottawa Premiere of ‘Chameleon’
Location: Bytowne Cinema, 325 Rideau Street, Ottawa
Tickets are $10.00 and can be purchased in advance via Universe.
CHAMELEON director Ryan Mullins will be in attendance at tonight’s screening.
Media are invited to attend free of charge. Please RSVP to attend:
OWFF Communications Coordinator
General News of Tuesday, 8 September 2015
Thirty-four Ghanaian judges face impeachment in the coming weeks as an exposé about to hit Ghana entangles them in a damning corruption scandal.
The high profile judges including, Justice John Ajet-Nassam, a High Court Judge, who freed Alfred Agbesi Woyome in the controversial GHC51 million judgment debt scandal, have been videotaped and audio recorded in separate conversations with suspects or persons acting as agents of suspects before them to compromise big cases.
The over six months’ painstaking investigations by ace investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas in collaboration with StarrFMonline.com will be released in full in the coming weeks, ahead of a premiere at the Accra International Conference Centre.
In what has already been described as the “biggest scandal ever to hit Ghana’s judicial service,” Anas has served notice the video and other hardcore evidence will shake the “democratic foundation of Ghana.”
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