Brian Chankin curates the Deadly Prey Gallery, a collection of hand-painted movie posters from the world of Ghanaian cinema, a selection of which will be on display at PhilaMOCA during the Cinedelphia Film Festival. A visual respite from our current world of cookie-cutter/floating head film advertisements, made in what feels like minutes on the most basic of photoshop software, these eye-popping delights are like nothing you’ve ever seen, and Chankin wants to see them all.
The Deadly Prey Gallery began not as an exhibit, but as a personal quest for Chankin, whose insatiable desires as a collector led to the founding of the aptly-named Odd Obsession Movies, a video store specializing in genre cinema, which he opened using his own personal stash.
After discovering the “extremely intricate and brutal” posters in a book titled Ghanavision: Hand-Painted Film Posters from Ghana, Chankin sought to obtain some pieces of his own. The first few came from eBay, the next few from a person closer to the source — who Chankin found deep in the annals of a Google search, and who was willing to ship posters to the U.S. on a “buy now, pay later” agreement, which any collector would be crazy to pass up. What started as a collection of fifteen items soon ballooned to much bigger proportions. The Deadly Prey Gallery features some 600 posters at any given time, many of which are sold, as Chankin claims, to fund the addiction of obtaining even more.
Chankin’s quest for more posters fostered an education in Ghanaian film exhibition. In the 1980s you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie theater in Ghana. Instead, traveling video companies would pack a generator and a VCR into a van, and take a makeshift roadshow from village to village. Most of the films on display were either locally produced, or were whatever could be intercepted from the Hollywood, Bollywood, or Hong Kong markets. Since these tours relied entirely upon getting butts in seats, there was little room for tonal variety. Action, horror, melodrama, and physical comedy would do the trick (House Party, for example, has spawned many posters). At first, the limited exhibition meant that potential audiences had no choice in what films to watch. They could simply go see whatever was playing or stay home. It’s when multiple video companies began popping up that marketing came into play, and the company with the most explosive advertisements would draw the biggest crowd. Hence the need for giant, colorful, attention-grabbing posters.
The artists used whatever was on hand to create their pieces. While some had access to acrylics and oil paints, most used house paint to turn a couple of sewn-together flour sacks into the textural delights which invited Ghanaians to check out Commando, Cujo, or Marked for Death.
The movement began with only a handful of artists, maybe 10-15, which expanded to 50-70 during the heyday of the roadshow enterprise, with a few artists making a name for themselves above the rest of the crop. Of the 600 posters in the Deadly Prey Gallery, Chankin indicated that at least 200 were painted by an artist known as Mr. Brew whose notoriety stems not just from his visceral, detailed work, but from the fact that he’s known to get drunk while he paints, making him somewhat of a film nerd’s Jackson Pollock. Unfortunately, the current whereabouts of Mr. Brew are unknown, which highlights a notable difference between the Ghanaian film business and our own: it’s not so regulated that relatively key player couldn’t just up and disappear.
It’s also not so regulated as to have access to as many movies as we do here in the states. For example, a Star Wars poster is a much-coveted item for collectors like Chankin, but they are very hard to come by. Despite the film fitting precisely what a Ghanaian audience would have been consuming at the time, it didn’t seem to get much play. Therefore, no posters. Chankin surmises that Star Wars, for a variety of reasons, was just a harder property for the video companies to obtain. Posters for the spin-off Ewok movies, however, are considerably easier to find.
But despite its comparative shortcomings, the world of Ghanaian film is an ever-expanding one. There are still roadshows, but also an increasing number of more traditional venues, all of which house international imports as well as local cinema. Nigeria, for example, has one of the fastest growing film industries in the entire world. The production style is different, using a shoestring budget to pump out a high-volume of niche films — most of which are shown for a few weeks and then forgotten — with a few popular outliers here and there. This is indicative of two things: a wealth of creative artists intent on bringing entertainment to the masses, and proof positive that a market for film — for storytelling — exists in all corners of society.
Chankin estimates that there are maybe 10 poster artists still working today, and he’s happy to do what he can to keep them employed, going so far as to having a few posters commissioned for his own events. I asked if he’s ever seen a Boogie Nights poster. No dice, but it brings me joy to know that with the right connections it could be done.
A few highlights to look out for at this year’s exhibition:
A Jeepers Creepers 2 poster which appears to feature Freddy Krueger.
An Evil Dead 2 poster featuring a murderous hillbilly.
A Schwarzenegger poster which features a foreign bootleg DVD-esque mashup of imagery from any number of his films.
Brian Chankin’s favorite: Deadly Prey, of course.
And don’t miss the exhibit here in Philadelphia which will be on display for the entirety of the Cinedelphia Film Festival.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.