This particular interview should have happened as early as the top of 2020. Rather, Ghanaian director and actor Pascal Aka wanted to ride out the momentum of the festival circulation for his latest pic, Gold Coast Lounge, and so we held off until further notice, although the omnious factor of the then-forthcoming Coronavirus pandemic was something neither of us could have predicted.
The good news is that audiences are raving about his film, and with a many as sixteen awards from multiple festivals now sitting on its rack following its local release in Ghana, and on various airline flights. Even better is the film’s prospective acquisition announced earlier this month by boutique streamer, Topic, which has been making headway since its launch from First Look in November of 2019, home to multitudes of dramas and features – scintillating mysteries, thrillers and documentaries from around the world.
The pandemic has certainly been a blessing in disguise for the streaming industry, and I got dive in a little about this with Aka in one of my questions sent to him this week, while discussing his career, the production of Gold Coast Lounge and much more. Aka’s involvement on this film is not unlike many other independent directors either – he also funded the film himself, as well as scored the music in addition to serving up an immersive portrayal of one of the film’s key antagonists, a task which he describes in our interview as “the most challenging” role he’s ever played in his life.
Aka also goes in just a little bit on why the role might be his last, in which case, he’s certainly earned the right of passage given his efforts here. Of course, he’s even prouder of the film’s North American landing currently slated for January 27 through Topic, which makes the arrival of this interview all the more timely, and favorable.
FYI: To be clear, my choice of headline for this interview stems from an earlier point in his childhood when he talks about how he saw action films when he wasn’t watching them on screen. Enjoy!
I’ve chatted with a great deal of folks around the world over the last nine years who aspire to do action films. There’s lots of challenges in terms of money, influence and politics, even though the talent is there. Ghana is sort of new to me and probably a lot of folks like myself who aren’t regularly exposed to Ghanaian cinema, and you’ve directed quite a few things in your career, including your share of action films. Can you share your own experience for us up to this point and what you’ve observed?
After my nine years in Canada directing indie action films and music videos, when I returned home in 2011, I was already fascinated by the idea of showcasing my home with a brand new lens so to speak. I kept asking myself what is my true identity as an artist is, and what it is that would make me unique. Gold Coast Lounge, I feel, is the culmination of all my experiences as an action director, film graduate from Canada, music video director, actor and a child of Ghana West Africa.
Tell us about what got you started in directing and some of the influences you share that have shaped your craft to this day.
It’s 1989, at the age of four, I am watching Rambo with my brothers, and I ask them “When is Rambo 2 coming out?” They tell me it doesn’t exist, so after crying, I ended up watching Rambo 2 in my head. From there – I kid you not – I watched hundreds of movies in my head while walking in circles around the house. That is how my film directing journey began. As a teenager about to graduate high-school, I sat my parents down, told them that I wanted to use my education to pursue acting, but my dad convinced me to pursue directing instead. He was right, because as a director I could do it all.
Just to be clear, you DID eventually get to see the subsequent Rambo films back then, right?
I got to see the second and third Rambo films 1991. I am sure my brothers were aware about the sequels, though they didnt have the VHS just yet.
I love the richness you present in Gold Coast Lounge. Talk about your approach to this particular story, because I understand that you had a story in mind and a certain particular era in history, and it was a kind of a swing in the dark for you, wasn’t it?
Yes it was, but it was not as dim as it could have been. The journey began in 2016 when I directed “Black Rose”, which was a short film, almost proof of concept for what would end up being Gold Coast Lounge. I felt Black Rose was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever directed at the time so it motivated me to make a full feature out of it.
In terms of the story, I knew it was very possible to do a period film that dwell on African issues that are still plaguing our country til this day. Ghana is the first African country to gain independence from its colonisers, however we still have a complex, a submissive mindset where the average Ghanaian lacks confidence in their country’s ability to prosper on its own, manage its own affairs and resources without the influence of western society. This conflict is directly represented by Daniel and Wisdom’s characters in the film.
Speaking of, talk about the casting for us. You have an amazing cast with Alphonse Menyo who plays Daniel, your leading lady, Raquel Ammah who I understand is one of Ghana’s most popular vocalists and musicians today, and you also wrote the music for this film on top the script. Not to mention you have a role in this film too, and I’m additionally curious if you wrote the character with yourself in mind. You do a more than fair job with that role too!
Thank you. Alphonse Menyo was the lead in the Black Rose film. He was not the original actor cast for the role, but right when the camera rolled for the first take, I knew he was the one and I couldnt wait to shoot a feature with him. This role was enough to gain him multiple nominations and winning Best Actor in a Leading Role in Ghana. Raquel was also perfect to play Rose, not only because she would nail the songs I wrote but because she is a theatrically trained actress.
I have always acted in all my films, and most of the times the roles I play were written with myself in mind. Wisdom was by far the most challenging role I have ever played in my life, in fact it is the last time that I am going to act in my own films for the mere fact that it drained me completely, playing an emotional and demonic character like that, while taking the already daunting task of directing and producing.
Talk about the action for us and the process of putting those fight scenes together, and coinciding the film’s more contextual theme regarding Ghana, and the character Daniel’s speech toward Wisdom about what it means to be “African Warriors”. Talk about the importance of this aspect of the film.
The level of action of a period film like this was not too challenging to put together. Prior to this, I usually worked with a stunt team here called 8th Wonder Stunts, but boxing fights with limited movements was a bit too basic for them so it was small enough for me to put them together on my own, with some initial guideness from them of course.
When Daniel and Wisdom fight, verbally or physically, to me it was not just about brothers fighting. It was two ideologies, two different classes, two metaphorical political parties, two tribes, and two directions that their empire or their countries could go. Their first boxing match was more technical with a set of rules, to win their father’s approval; but the finale fight was visceral, raw and extremely personal, that’s what we were going for.
I recall a few years ago you did a video for social media followers and it was a very emotional moment for you. Can you tell us more about that and what your thoughts and feelings were up to that point?
It is an amazing feeling to feel so passionately about a project, dream about it, plan it, sacrifice for it, work on it, and release a trailer just to have many people show so much love back to it. It’s an amazing feeling.
It’s been a few years since Covid-19 gripped the world and the industry has had to adapt with streaming companies like Topic, which just acquired several titles for North America, including your film. Do you share any particular disappointment with the diminishment of the theatrical experience because of the pandemic? What are your thoughts on streaming?
Luckily, we finished our theatrical run in Accra, Ghana right before the pandemic hit. However, it was dissapointing to not have attended most of the film festivals that picked up the film and showcased it. A missed opportunity to travel and attend festivals in Egypt, New York, London, Paris, Cannes, Washington, Grenada, Kenya etc.. I am happy that the film has been on flights, i.e. Qatar, Brussels, United, Saudi Air, and with Topic’s acquisition of the film for a 2022 streaming run in North America, it is nothing short of a blessing. Gradually, African films like Gold Coast Lounge gain some attention internationally, and so it’s very encouraging.
I know films can be a crapshoot when it comes to development and funding, and it’s pretty much a gamble every step of the way. In terms of your own career and making Gold Coast Lounge, talk about what the process means for you in getting a film made, and some of the lessons you’ve taken with you and hurdles you’ve faced over the years.
I funded this film by myself, eight years after its conception. Initially I reached out to multiple investors to no avail but eventually I decided to sacrifice and make it happen on my own. I am sure many independent filmmakers know this story too well. Its almost impossible to get the returns you dream of, however the returns from this entire experience have been nothing short of encouraging. The mere existence of this film outside my brain is a reward on its own.
This journey has made me realize exactly what my purpose is as a filmmaker. I want films from Ghana and Africa to not only be appreciated but respected. Action was always my foundation and my genesis as a director, I will never forget those first seven years shooting action features, shorts and test fights with my Canadian brothers – Dennis Lafond, Daniel Lavigne and Mousse (Alain Moussi). All my films in the future will have some elements of action in them – so you could see me do thrillers, crime or maybe science fiction and adventure films. What makes me and my work unique is my African identity. I am here to add an African flavour to all kinds of action-based genre films.
What’s next for Pascal Aka? Anything in development, scriptwise?
I have a few crime social dramas, crime action films in development. However, a sequel to GCL wouldn’t be bad. With a new story and new characters, who knows?
I just want to thank you for taking the time out to share your story with us and giving the masses something worthwhile to enjoy. On that note, do you have any parting words for our readers as we make our exit?
7thThank you Lee. Gold Coast Lounge is available to stream on Topic.com from January 27. Topic is available to everyone in the US and Canada. You can sign up and start your free trial. Thank you again.