Cannes 2022: Amartei Armar, first Ghanaian filmmaker in the running for the Palme d’or for short films

Published on :

“It’s surreal to be here. » With his film « Tsutsue », Amartei Armar, 31, was during this 75th edition the first Ghanaian director in the running for the Palme d’Or for short films in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Interview with the man for whom “the beauty of cinema is to bring people together”.

RFI : More than 3 500 filmmakers from all over the world have applied to take part in the short film competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Your dream has come true. How does it feel to be the first Ghanaian director and, this year, the only African to be selected to compete for the Palme d’Or for Short Film ?

Amartei Armar : It means everything to me. There are so many people from all over the world here. For me, Cannes is the best festival for world cinema. We are very honored that Ghana can be part of this festival and that we have been able to meet so many different cultures and countries. It’s incredible. It’s surreal to be here.

Read also : At the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Africa advances out of competition

Tsutsue is about two fisherman’s sons in a small Ghanaian town dominated by an open dump by the sea. One of the film’s opening lines is an alert : “ The earth is dying “. Was this realization also the trigger that pushed you to realize Tsutsue ?

Yes indeed. It all started with a documentary. We went along the coast, because the government is making plans to rebuild the fishing industry in Ghana. When we spoke to fishermen, we found that pollution and climate change were adding to the already existing difficulties of fishing. 70% of the catch they take out is just trash. The challenge for us was to talk about a global issue and adapt it to a scenario with a child. We chose the perspective of a child looking at what is happening.

“Ttsutsue”, by Ghanaian director Amartei Armar. © La Luna Production / AKA Entertainment

In the film, the sea and garbage are everywhere. Nevertheless, the open dump is both a source of pollution, but also a playground for children. And the sea has certainly killed Okai’s brother, but, at the same time, it also feeds the fisherman’s family. Tsutsueis it a movie about life and death ?

Absolutely. That’s exactly what the movie is about. It’s also a film about growing up. The boy has to face the big questions of life. And there is always a link between life and death. We consume things, but when it’s time to throw away the leftovers, where do they go?

Read also : Cannes Film Festival: Ruben Östlund wins his second Palme d’Or for “Triangle of Sadness”

How did you find the two boys Elisha Kirtson-Acquah (Okai) and Idrissu Tontie Jr. (Sowah) for this film ?

The name of the youngest means “God is great”. He is from Teshia, the town where we filmed. My producer Yemoh Ike found it. He searched a lot before finding this 8 year old boy who has so much energy and life. He felt he could do the film justice. For Junior, we had known him since 2017. At the time, he was 10 years old, we recruited him from a school. He debuted in my short film wanderers, also filmed in Ghana. Today, he is 15 years old and he is almost as tall as us. The two boys are like my sons.

The boys wear very particular masks and costumes. Is your ambition to be between artistic performance and cinema? ?

We wanted to bring a slightly surreal aspect. And this theme was also metaphorically integrated into the story itself. The costumes reflect that too. At the same time, they must remain credible so that the concern remains realistic. It’s a kind of sci-fi environment, a place where the boys draw a lot of imagination from, despite the detrimental effects for their community.

“Ttsutsue”, by Ghanaian director Amartei Armar. © La Luna Production / AKA Entertainment

You are the son of a Ghanaian father and an American mother. You studied cinema in Canada. Today you live and work in Accra, Ghana. One Unesco report found that after Nigeria, which produces more than 2,600 films a year, Ghana comes second with an annual production of 600 films. For you, how is the directing, filming and production of a film in Ghana ?

It’s almost like being a student filmmaker again. You have to go to the field, there are no studios or places where you can shoot on a set. We are fortunate to work with La Luna Productions who have been very kind to us and who have guided us in our approach and helped to raise funds for the project. I would say that’s probably the hardest thing to do in Ghana, because there’s not as much investment in cinema. It’s always up to independent production companies to find their own ways of making films. But we love it so much. We are crazy about cinema, about stories. And we are here!

Read also : Clermont 2020: “Da Yie”, by Anthony Nti, “a foreigner in Ghana”

Among your inspirations, you cite great directors such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu or Agnès Varda, but also a Ghanaian artist, Serge Attukwei Clottey, born in 1985. How did he influence you? ?

For example compared to the mask in the film. Serge Attukwei is the founder of Afrogallonism. He does a lot of artwork about pollution and waste. It reuses waste [surtout des jerrycans de plastique jaune, NDLR] and transforms them into installations to express environmental concerns [et aussi la politique de migration] in the society. In the film, the jerrycan in the form of a mask takes over society’s waste. I was really inspired watching his art and we use the jerrycans almost like African masks.

“Ttsutsue” by Ghanaian director Amartei Armar.
“Ttsutsue” by Ghanaian director Amartei Armar. © La Luna Production / AKA Entertainment

Compared to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Agnès Varda, what I like so much about them is that every time I watch their films, there is so much empathy, so much love and dedication to human condition. In this way, they break down barriers. For example, Vagabond (1985), by Agnès Varda, I loved the point of view of this film, how she changed the way we can tell stories, integrating different genres. She is a legendary filmmaker and this year the Cannes Film Festival gave her name to a cinema. As for Inarritu, he is a model for bringing together different cultures. It explores our ways of being with all our differences and our commitments in the world. To see in the end that we are all human beings. So we should be able to interact, understand each other and have empathy for each other. At the Festival, I saw The lucky stars by Hirokazu Kore-eda, I had tears in my eyes. He’s a Japanese director with a Korean history. That’s the beauty of cinema, uniting people. That’s what we want.

We want to give thanks to the author of this post for this incredible content

Cannes 2022: Amartei Armar, first Ghanaian filmmaker in the running for the Palme d’or for short films