How long did it take to make the film?
We wrote our initial funding application in May 2018. After securing a positive response, we set up the project in the last quarter of 2018.
Background research began in January 2019. Principal photography/interviews were carried out in the second half of 2019 and into 2020 (hence the overlap with, and restrictions as a result of COVID-19). The post production work was carried out from late 2020 and throughout 2021. This was a major job because we had over 60 hours of raw footage that had to be distilled into a film, and we did not want the final film to last more than 100 minutes. We also had to search for, edit, and include a lot of historic footage and other B Rolls (this refers to the secondary footage used as cutaway footage, and to provide context and visual interest to help tell our story).
In July 2021, with help from Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin, the country Director of ABANTU-for-Development, we screened an advanced draft of the film to stakeholder groups in Ghana and ran a series of workshops with them at the University of Ghana (the interviewees themselves, members of CSOs, academics, and members of youth groups). The objective was to test an advanced draft of the film, and make decisions about how to finalise it. The film premiered at the Silverbird cinema in Accra on 13 January 2022.
How did you select the women who appear in the film?
Given the limitations of time and resources, every researcher has to make difficult decisions about what and who to include. The team worked from a first cut of over 60 women but eventually our funding, time, and the incursion of the COVID-19 pandemic enabled us to interview 16 women. We also focussed closely on two people who had already died (Kate Abbam and Annie Jiagge) as well offering a lighter focus on others (e.g. Gertrude Zakariah and women parliamentarians from Nkrumah’s Convention people’s party, the CPP). Film work is expensive, hence the limit on the number of live interviews. The 16 participants come from different areas of work (e.g. law, media, politics, academia, the National Council for Women and Development, the NCWD, and some other women’s organisations) and 7 out of Ghana’s original 10 regions. Given that we are located in the south, we had planned to interview women, especially ‘grassroots’ women from the Northern parts of the country. These eventually had to be cancelled due to the COVID lockdown in Ghana and attending travel difficulties. As a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, some interviewees had to come to us at the University of Ghana’s Legon campus, and one person had to be interviewed on Zoom. However, at the end of the day, it is important to note that the women in the film are not “representative”—each was selected for the role she played, often in relation to others, and to tell her own story.
How did you decide what to ask them?
Background research was carried out in several archives: the Public Records and Administration Department in Accra; the National Archives in the UK; the United Nations archives in New York City; the Evelyn Amarteifio Papers at the Historical Society of Ghana on the University of Ghana (Legon) campus. We also made detailed and extensive searches of old Ghanaian newspapers, in the Institute of African Studies library at the University of Ghana, and the British Library in London. Internet searches yielded biographical and career information about many of the women. Additionally, members of the research team were part of the women’s movement in Ghana and knew some of the interviewees personally. All of this helped us to decide on what questions to ask.
How did you manage to get so many old documents / photos / film footage to include in the film?
This aspect of our work was extremely painstaking and time consuming; sometimes it involved the skills and determination of a sleuth.
We are grateful for the assistance of:
- our interviewees, who gave us personal copies of old documents, photographs, and in some cases video footage;
- the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, which provided us with precious historic footage;
- the Institute of African Studies library for the old newspapers that feature in the film;
- the United Nations audio visual archive for historic footage of Annie Jiagge and Esther Ocloo (though some footage requires payment to access, most of their video and audio material can be viewed or listened to online without charge at https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/)
How was the film work funded?
The majority of the funding came from the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme (which is in turn supported by the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund). Additional contributions were made by the Institute of African Studies (University of Ghana) and the Institute for Global Innovation (University of Birmingham).
Who do you envisage using the film?
The feedback from the workshops mentioned above, as well as the questions asked during the series of screenings we held, helped us to envisage how the film could best be used. Between January and March 2022, the film was screened numerous times in Accra, free-of-charge, for the general public. We also ran a regional outreach programme in Ho (Volta Region), and held dedicated events for particular gender and development organisations and programmers both in person and online. From the requests for copies of the film, we envisage that it will be used in classrooms, CSO trainings, policy design and public engagements.
What impact will the film have?
The feedback from all of these events shows that the film can be used for:
- Public understanding: Audiences consistently reported that the film had increased their knowledge and understanding of not only the long tradition of activism by and for women in Ghana, but also of Ghana’s history more broadly. Most of the audience groups wanted the film to reach as many people as possible, to combat misunderstanding of gender activism as a recent or ‘western’ phenomenon.
- Rights awareness: Gender and development programmers, in both governmental bodies and civil society organisations, indicated that they anticipated using the film in existing initiatives that raise women’s awareness of their rights (for example, in cases of intestate succession or domestic violence), and increase public understanding of the logics behind campaigns for legal reforms.
- Training: Women’s organisations saw the potential of the film as a resource in training programmes that support women’s participation in public life (for example, as district Assemblywomen or as parliamentarians).
- Movement building: Those who were closely involved in existing women’s civil society organisations recommended that the film be screened with the specific aim of stimulating inter-generational dialogue and collaboration, thereby strengthening organisations for the future.
- Informing policy debate: Some stakeholders recommended that the film be screened to parliamentarians, to increase understanding of demands for an Affirmative Action law or policy that has stalled since the early 2000.
- Combating gender stereotypes in education: The film has been successfully screened to final-year students in senior high schools and to students of all levels at the University of Ghana. This should be expanded nationally, to combat gender stereotyping and motivate young people.
Why do we not meet the interviewer and why do you not employ a narrator?
There are many ways to tell a story—through the first person, through a third person, visually without any voices, these are all options. Ultimately, we decided that the stories of the women presented in the film would best be told without the interruption of the appearance and questions of the interviewer. The interviewer, Akosua Adomako Ampofo, one of the researchers and producers, was personally known to most of the respondents, and we didn’t want the interviewer’s questions, the ways the questions were framed, or the ways in which the interviewees chose to answer (or not), to interfere with their stories or how the viewer would respond to them. We wanted the viewer to receive, and evaluate the women in their own words and in relation to each other.
How was sound designed for the film?
The sound design decisions were made with the audience at heart. The film affects multiple audiences: the older generation (especially women) who lived in the era the film is about, some of whom were part of organizing the various movements; young women activists who will hopefully be inspired as they learn about early activists’ work; and curious minds interest in stories of Ghana’s (women’s) history. The sound design for “When women Speak” was designed to create a sense of location and time, helping to transport the audience to a different place and time, and immersing them in the story.
The Sound design was also created to enhance the aesthetic quality of the film by adding depth and realism to the visuals, creating a sense of atmosphere and emotional resonance, and helping to guide the audience’s attention. The sound serves to add its voice to the culture of remembering, providing a combination of archival footage, audio, photos, and animation to achieve 360 storytelling by capturing different emotions, generating conversations, and conveying the different layers of messages delivered by the film. A game changer for the aural decision of the film was the introduction of animation. The animation for the film was created in an abstract and expressionist form to give “life” to the animations so every movement and action could be felt and appreciated. The character of the film also determined the sound design of the film. Some of the events personal or public presented in the film were groundbreaking but also moving.
Who designed the musical score and how did they make the decisions?
The theme music for the film was composed by Dzidor Amorin a student at Berklee College of Music, Boston U.S.A. The director in conversations with the composer discussed the main themes of the film, and the impact she wanted the film to have on the audience, with the composer. Music was used to capture audience attention and emotions by creating dramatic effects, tension or suspense, and was instrumental in maximizing some key moments in the film. During the editing stage, the composer watched the film a number of times and the film’s logline, “[i]t’s about struggle, sisterhood, sacrifice, and freedom” helped inform the composite, and with different instruments, for the different events and moods in the film. For the end credits, the theme music was performed in a “salsa-rumba” style, creating a relaxed mood and a sense of achievement.
Why did you choose to include animations, and what informed the choice of aspects to animate?
When we were putting the film together, we decided that we needed to give some of the dense material some breathing room, especially since this is a long film. Animation and illustration seemed to us as the perfect solution: the timelines would help situate anyone who was not familiar with the history, while the other animated sequences would accompany some of the violent, more heavy periods in history and act as a stand-in for some of the missing archival material. Illustrations have a long history as a medium for cultural resistance and so we also wanted to depict that resistance. Finally, we felt that the introduction of animations would appeal to a younger audience.