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11 July 2011

An African Election

Written by Published in Issue 28 - Raw Read 1573 times

In 2008, as the world watched the first-ever black candidate run for US president, Swiss-born film-maker Jarreth Merz returned to the country of his boyhood as another nation made political history.

Ghana, the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in 1957 after only one previously peaceful transfer of power, went to the polls. Meanwhile, the world looked on at what was effectively a political barometer for democratic stability in Africa. Merz, with two camera teams, spent three months following the main contenders. Nana Afuko-Addo was a founding member of the NPP (New Patriotic Party), which hoped to retain power and continue the economic growth it had begun, and Prof. John Evans Atta Mills came from the NDC (National Democratic Congress), fighting to remain on the political landscape. From the footage, he created his unique and vibrant documentary, An African Election.

In this punchy documentary, Merz follows the high-stakes campaign (raised by the discovery of oil in 2007) through the culturally rich human landscape, from urban metropolis to remote village. Here, he discovers a turbulent country where people will wait twelve hours to exercise ‘the power of the thumb’. He captures the pride of the people and the party leaders’ larger-than-life characters, and reveals the dramatic political, social and fiscal forces at work in Ghana. Merz’s intense film encompasses enough suspense-filled and
unpredictable twists to rival any Hollywood thriller. It is an encounter enriched by the work of award-winning

Director of Photography Topher Osborn, who completed his MFA in Cinematography at UCLA, a competitive film programme which accepts only three Directors of Photography each year. Osborn has built his reputation working with international production teams in a broad range of environments. The use of intimate, hand-held camera work, extreme close-ups and long-lens shots captures the raw documentary style of real-time events, but with clear cinematographic ambition.

The visceral auditory experience blends the clamorous hustle of the rally with a strong soundtrack replete with drumbeats, bringing a sense of danger and excitement as much akin to armed conflict as to political engagement. A jazzy score adds to the climactic carnival atmosphere as rival parties fight and shout, while professing friendship through gritted teeth. Composer Patrick Kirst’s credits include Earth, the first documentary for Disney Nature. Kirst also scored the short film Kavi, which won the Student Academy Award 2009, one of the highest awards for undergraduate film-makers.

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