The Burial of Kojo at the Opening Night at the Cascade Festival of African Films
by S.C. Taulbee
The Burial of Kojo, the first feature length film by Ghanaian musician and filmmaker Blitz Bazawule, opened the 30th anniversary Cascade Festival of African Films (CFAF). On the festival’s opening night the Hollywood Theater screened Kojo back to back, hosting Q&A sessions with the director after each. The event was free and open to the public, like all events hosted by the CFAF, the remainder of which (except closing night, hosted again at the Hollywood Theater) are at Portland Community College’s (PCC) Cascade campus.
The film tells the story of a young girl, Esi, and her family as they move from their remote lake village into the city after a visit from her uncle Kwabena. Kwabena convinces brother Kojo to follow him to the city, where their mother’s health is failing and there is money to be made in the abandoned gold mines. The main storyline is told in parallel to a story of magical realism following in the tradition of Ghanaian folklore, centered around Esi and the important role she is destined to play for her family.
Subtle yet impactful special effects are used throughout Kojo to accent certain aspects of the story with visual metaphor. When an unknown old blind man arrives in their village from “the realm in-between, where the sky meets the earth, and people walk upside down,” Bazawule demonstrates this by simply turning the camera over so that the character arrives as if floating upside down from a sea in the sky.
Music plays a role of its own in Kojo. Bazawule is a long-time musician and recording artist, but this is the first time he has scored music for film. The music, like the deliberate use of color and special effects, contributes to the viewer’s experience and oftentimes signals an upcoming scene.
When Festival Director Tracy Francis took the stage to lead a Q&A with the director, Bazawule spoke of his approach to filmmaking: “A filmmaker has to love the people they’re filming,” he said. He told of the year-long process of traveling Ghana by bus, building relationships with local people in preparations for filming. Bazawule and crew were invited to film in homes and on the land of the people he met this way. As a result, family photos and other personal effects made it into the final cut of the film, lending Kojo and authenticity otherwise unattainable.
Kojo is a film that bears repeat viewings. The visual effects, the vignette-style of storytelling, the subtlety of the narrative and of its peripheral themes are too much to unpack in one viewing or review. Like Esi says about her father’s traditional stories: “the beginning doesn’t make sense until you know the end, and the ending is never what you expect.”
A full schedule of all festival events, running the entire month of February, can be found at www.africanfilmfestival.org.