An African Election (PG)

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Review byIsabel Stevens23/11/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 98 mins

As Ghana went to the polls at the end of 2008, Jarreth Merz was on hand to capture the remarkable events of a highly tense, prolonged election. His resulting documentary - which more closely resembles a thriller - goes behind the scenes and demonstrates a democracy dangerously on the verge of collapse.

What’s it all about?
With 28 days to go until the presidential elections, Jarreth Merz’s debut documentary presents the two main candidates (Nana Akufo-Addo from the ruling NPP party and John Evans Atta Mills from the NDC in opposition), whilst emphasising the importance of the elections for a country that has in the past endured four military dictatorships and only first witnessed the peaceful transferral of power from one party to another in 2000.

Archive footage is used to illustrate Ghana’s history while a variety of talking heads – electoral commissioners, activists, political commentators and EU observers as well as ordinary Ghanians – comment on their hopes and fears. With both sides claiming victory but no clear winner evident, the country is in a dangerous political limbo and Merz’s film aptly captures the tensions abounding both behind the scenes and on the streets.

The Good
Director Merz grew up in Ghana and his affection for the nation and its 20 million inhabitants certainly comes across here. The scope of his film is admirably wide, essentially offering a 90 minute panorama of the country whilst also giving an insight into its tumultuous history. Balancing talking heads with plenty of footage from the streets as well as interviews with those normally overlooked in sweeping political documentaries, he evocatively portrays a sense of place and the excitement that gripped the nation at the time. While the documentary gets off to a rather conventional start, the film becomes increasingly gripping as events twist and turn and no president emerges.

The Bad
Despite impressive access behind the scenes on both sides, Merz never really gets beneath the campaign rhetoric and promises of a better future which both candidates espouse. As the situation becomes increasingly precarious, Merz also over does the fast paced editing and the drum-beat-and-quivering-violin-filled soundtrack.

Worth Seeing?
Right at the centre of the action, this is a far more thrilling and detailed picture of the election on the ground than any news report at the time. However, with little analysis or in-depth insight on show, An African Election may be more suited to the small screen rather than the big one.

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Content updated: 26/04/2019 10:36

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