It was not until 1954 that he joined the then West African Film School which was located at present day TV3, Kanda in Accra. His choice of joining the camera department, to study, panned out to be the best of decision he made.
Having graduated with the knowledge in the handling of professional cameras, he saw the need to further broaden his studies. That, in 1960, again saw him graduating from the Film and Television school, Lodz, in Poland and also from the University of Sorbonne, Paris, France was post-graduate certificate in Film and TV Arts.
Meet one of Ghana’s acclaimed photographer, cinematographer and filmmaker, Rev. Dr. Chris Hesse.
When I called him, on phone, on February 2, 2017 to request to interview him for a feature documentary, he answered warmly.
“Solomon, can we make it next week Thursday?” said Dr. Chris Hesse,
When the time came and I stood behind his gate as I sounded the doorbell, a very beautiful lady ushered me into the house. Anita, the lady, directed me to Dr. Hesse. It was my first time seeing him in person.
“You are the man with TV3, right? He asked.
“Yes, Sir.” I replied.
Dr. Hesse then chipped in.
“Solomon, can we have our interview next week Wednesday?” he asked. This time, I nearly choked on a cup of coffee he had served me. Why is he postponing our scheduled interview? I asked myself.
“I wanted to see your face, first. So, now that I have seen you, we can do proper interview the next time we meet.”
I obliged. On my second visit, I understood the ‘long process’ the man took me through. That could be summed in two words; patience and professionalism.
Dr. Chris Hesse tells me that the then filmmakers of Gold Coast Film Unit never rushed in producing any of their movies.
“Why would we rush? In everything you do in life you need to be reasonably patient and, as a professional, you ensure professionalism. Yes… yes,” he said.
If you have ever watched renowned filmmaker Kwaw Ansah’s movie, African Heritage, you would better appreciate the knowledge and patience of our old folks. Dr. Chris Hesse tells me the Character, Mr. Bosomfield, in the said movie had to spend months in Britain ‘just’ to learn the colonial masters’ mannerisms among others. This gave a great spice to the movie.
Dr. Chris Hesse shoots his middle finger and rhythmically smashes it on the small round table around which we sat. He expresses frustration over happenings in our current movie industry.
“Now what do you see? They take the camera and within one week they have shot three to four movies? We are jokers.’
The man who, on 6th March, 1957, stood behind Camera Two in filming the Independence Day ceremony says the Gold Coast Film Unit took upon itself to train some local folks. The folks including Bob Cole had expressed interest in acting. That training given the local folks saw the birth of the popular movie, I Told You So.
He believes same could be done for the industry today, especially with the Kumawood. On what could be called the Accrawood, nothing throws Dr. Hesse off than the overdose of make-up the actresses wear.
Dr. Chris Hesse believes the love for money is proportionately contributing to the fallen standard of our movie industry. ‘It’s not the question of this is what the public will like to see. It’s a question of telling the public this and that are the good movies you have to see.
“Film making is not the question of money. Immediately something comes on the screen, you are educating the one watching. You are communicating something.”
Dr. Chris Hesse says churning out something good to educate the masses was the strategy of America as it told the world through its movies, indirectly, that no nation comes next to her.
“While America showed it could conquer every nation in its movies, we are here copying Nigerians where you see ghosts appearing and vanishing in movies.”
He is urging government to put in the effort and commitment Dr. Kwame Nkrumah exhibited towards the arts industry while he steered affairs of the nation.
“Nkrumah went to Parliament and had a Legislative Instrument and bought all the cinemas in the country … from Accra, Swedru and Kumasi. Everywhere,” he says.
This LI brought about the Ghana Film Corporation where movies were produced and marketed [shown at cinemas].
The man I had the opportunity to interview has a rich achievement to boast off. He has been the director of photography for most early-day movies including Love Brewed in the African Pot (1980), His Majesty’s Sergeant (1984) and Heritage Africa (1989), a war cameraman who shot the Congo’s 1960 turbulence, a cinematographer of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, General J. A. Ankrah, General A.A. Afrifa, Prime Minister Dr. K. A. Busia through to former President J. J. Rawlings.
This is certainly a man we must listen to when he beckons on us to do the right thing. After my interview with him, he took me to his library. I was virtually submerged in a sea of photographs pasted on the walls of the library.
Among these pictures was an award he received from the maiden edition of the Ghana Movie Awards in 1999. Also, on the wall was a letter, framed, from the 37th President of America, Richard Nixon addressing Dr. Hesse to film his wife, Thelma Catherine Nixon, on her official visit to Ghana in 1971.
Are we not fortunate to have a living legend and critic of our works to help us shine bright like the diamond?
By Solomon Mensah
The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect 3FM’s editorial policy.