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Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager
Apr 13, 2023
On Saturday, April 29, Columbus moviegoers will have two opportunities to view a beautiful new short film by Columbus filmmakers Ife Oluwamuyide and Claudia Owusu, Ampe: Leap into the Sky, Black Girl. It will screen in the morning as part of the Wex's Family Saturday program, then Ampe will run that evening at the Drexel as part of a Cinema Columbus Documentary Shorts program.
Respectively Nigerian and Ghanian by birth, Oluwamuyide and Owusu came with their families to Columbus as children. With Ampe, they reveal a fun and vital part of Ghanian culture: a street game riff on rock paper scissors played pretty much exclusively by girls, in which the lead player is referred to as "mother." (The Family Saturday program will also include a demo of the game, weather permitting.)
Below, the women share how the film came together with support from the Wex Film/Video Studio, and how it reflects their experiences and goals. You can learn more about the film on the Ampe website and keep up with the filmmakers via the Ampe Instagram feed.
Still, Ampe: Leap into the Sky, Black Girl; image courtesy of the filmmakers
How did the two of you connect initially and start collaborating?
Ife Oluwamuyide: Claudia and I both grew up in Columbus... That was kind of our meeting spot, and there's a very large West African community in Columbus, so we always kind of knew of each other. Claudia was a writer, a poet, and I think I went to a couple of events that she was doing live readings at. And we always sort of followed each other on Instagram, and so kept in touch that way.
I think there was a moment when we both knew we were interested in film, and so we would always talk about it with each other, and eventually we just decided to start collaborating.
Claudia Owusu: Yeah, I remember the beginning of our collaboration, starting in 2019 I think, after just being social media friends and having mutual friends. I just thought it was so cool and just really wanted somebody else to share writing and film and just media with. Out of the friends that I was making, Ife was really the only other person that was interested in the same ways that I was. And so that summer we made our first film together, And We'll Be Renewed. We shot that in Columbus. So that was really the beginning of our interest in film. And then also in narrative, surrounding Black girls and centering Black girls and immigrant stories. That was a cool place for us to begin together, encourage each other, make mistakes, and just really experiment without anybody, you know, breathing on our shoulders.
For this film, what inspired you initially to focus on the game of ampe?
IO: I guess it was the beginning of 2020, around the time when the pandemic was really starting to set in. A couple of friends had a surprise party for Claudia out in the park, just a way to connect, since it had been a while since we'd seen each other. During the celebration, a lot of the girls were playing ampe and like, teaching each other, and it was just so exciting and fun to see.
I think it was maybe a couple of days later, Claudia called me and she was like, "I'm thinking about doing something centered around ampe," and I was like, "Oh, my goodness! I've been thinking about the same thing," because that was my first introduction to it, but I was so amazed by it and the energy surrounding it. That summer we were working on another project that had been commissioned. And so we decided between shooting that, since we already had equipment available to us, that we would try to shoot Ampe as well. So we shot it ourselves that summer. It ended up being, like, a 15-minute documentary that wasn't the strongest. But eventually we decided to revisit it, start applying to grants, and just expand the story a bit more and really do justice to the film.
You shot part of the film in Ghana. What did that work entail?
CO: I think for us, just our process of collaboration has always been an act of faith. I think there's something about partnering with someone else, especially when taking these leaps. And so with Ghana, that was sort of our initial investment. We thought OK, we are able to easily access our friends in Columbus to get their perspectives on ampe, and across our sister cities, it would be great to go to Ghana. So at the top of the year in 2021, we just automatically made that investment to purchase tickets and just set those dates and start inquiring about shooting, whether funding came or not.
So it was shaping out to be something that we would be funding ourselves, while also acquiring community support via a fundraiser. And then at that point, too, we had received a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council, which was really helpful in helping us acquire a producer at the least, so that we could get a sense of what the budget was like in both cities—namely, Ghana, since that was a bit more out of reach for us.
I got there maybe a month-and-a-half before we started shooting, and as soon as I got there, was mainly about doing some of the location scouting. Then, when Ife joined, we traveled to see the locations together with our cast and crew, and just shot there. So, being on ground in Ghana required a lot of prior planning, and then also sort of allowing room for flexibility and experimentation on set as well. And we had a really great team, which I think made that transition easier.
IO: It was while we were in Ghana, I think maybe on our third shoot day, that we heard back from one of the larger grants that we had applied to. So they're like, oh, you won, and I remember we were in the van after such a long shoot day—like, I was falling asleep or something—and Claudia just randomly checked her email. She was screaming, and I woke up, and I was like, "Gosh, did we get it?" And all the crew who was with us, they were looking at us like we were crazy, but we were just so excited... So, we were going to do this whether we got the money or not. And it just goes to show that when you step out on faith, you do get something in return.
It was really a a life changing moment for us. Even the application process for the grant—the grant was given to us through BlackStar Pitch, and so, prior to that, we had to shoot an application video. I was in Ghana. Ife was in the US. And going over the script that we were gonna use to shoot, Ife was handling edits on the script and I was handling edits on the video. So that ability to tag team and cover all of our backs from different angles, I think, is a central part of our collaboration that I appreciate. And when we got the news, we were on the bus, and just the excitement... I was just like, "Let me out of this bus! I will walk home!"
CO: It was just such a beautiful moment, and it just was so affirming because we had to sacrifice so much.
How did you find your subjects in Ghana to speak to the game?
IO: A lot of the subjects are actually friends of Claudia's, and then through them we found other girls who we interviewed to kind of gauge. We had a whole pre-interview process to see like what the story was going to be, and who we would be able to speak to that would really ground what ampe playing means, and if they had a longstanding experience with the game. And honestly, through our producers as well, we were able to find and reach out to [subjects], especially Mrs. Joyce Mahama and Agnes [Abefe, both of the Women's Sports Association of Ghana]. I think our main goal was just having women of all ages who have played ampe and experienced it in different ways throughout their life. We really just wanted each voice to be centered within the film.
There's a a thoughtful parallel that comes up in the film between the game structure, with its protective mother figure, and the family structure. How does that relate to your experience of family?
CO: I've been actually thinking a lot about my upbringing throughout the process of working on Ampe. And I think my upbringing or the process of family, my experience of family, reflects what happens in Ampe, because I grew up through the hands of a bunch of women in the house. And so there is this tiered leveling of respect almost. But yet, it's like everyone is welcomed into the space in Ghanaian culture. When someone is older than you, you call them sister. Thinking about that with the role of the mother, which often times is given to the oldest girl on the team, she can at times lead her team into being confident and to being joyous, and to not losing that steam or momentum, especially when the game is getting heated. I think just that nature of defense, as well as growing up—let's say you'd go somewhere with the girls from your neighborhood, or even from your house, and if anything came up, the oldest person was, like, standing in front of you or even backing you up. So just that act of being a shield, right? Like an in-between person, a protector between conflict, is something that I sense a lot in ampe that I experienced growing up.
IO: Yeah, I think I could say the same, also growing up with a lot of women around me, with a lot of aunts and nieces, and all of them have influenced my life in different ways. I think for me, I see the aspect of support a lot—like, that connection with ampe as well as within my life, and how women in my family have always been supportive of each other, because it's not an easy thing to leave the majority of your family in your late twenties/early thirties and come to a new place.
The thing that we're able to do, I think, especially as West Africans creating communities with people you don't even know, the only connection is that we both migrated here. So you develop this sense of family; you know, somebody new is coming over and so it's like, "You could stay with so and so," or, "They can help you get this job." And a lot of times, it tends to be the women who are the homemakers, who are inviting people into their home and taking care of new people who just came from Nigeria or any part of West Africa. So I think that's a main connection that I see with ampe: this aspect of community, despite where you come from. Even if I don't know you, there's a connection that we're both from the same place. And so I'm gonna take care of you like you're my own.
Another thing that really stuck out for me watching the film was a comment from Norkor, one of the women interviewed, about how, as a grown woman, she misses the sense of boldness that she brought to the game as a girl. When do girls typically "grow out" of the game? When did you stop playing? And the feeling of having a sense of boldness as a girl that maybe doesn't carry into adulthood, is that something you can relate to?
CO: Yeah. Recently we had a screening at Otterbein University, where one of our main cast members in Columbus, Nives, was in attendance. Someone in the audience asked a similar question about that moment of transition between playing, or being fully joyous to play ampe, versus adulthood or womanhood where you feel like you have to perform a certain level of being "put together." And her response was that you never really stop playing ampe. You just need someone to invite you, or you just need someone to ask. And I think there's something to be said about that. Ever since I heard that answer from her, I've just been mulling over that and just sort of meditating on what that means.
I think there is a big part of me that misses that childhood as well, and I relate to what Norkor said in the interview in the documentary. And I'm not really sure when exactly that transition happens. I just think that it's part of that busyness of life and learning and growth, especially because a lot of the girls that we interviewed are, you know, either the only daughters in their family or the oldest daughters in their family. And when you just add on that immigrant identity moving elsewhere, or just as Africans in general, being the eldest daughter of her family, there's just so much that is weighed on that. As responsibilities increase, there's just slimmer opportunities essentially for play. And so, I think we give up a little bit of that play to then carry or share in part of that responsibility within our families.
How did the Film/Video studio support your work on this film?
IO: When we shot Ampe ourselves, the first edit ever we sent off to Jennifer [Lange, head of the Film/Video Studio] and Paul [Hill, Film/Video Studio editor]. And they gave us a lot of very useful feedback that really changed the trajectory of how we approached Ampe. And I think it was after our conversation with them that we decided that a lot of their questions needed answers that we weren't able to give with the edit that we had. And so that's when we decided, OK, maybe we either need to reshoot or just start this over completely. And throughout we would give them updates about where we were at. Then eventually, with the final edit last year, they helped us with our sound and really honing that and making sure that it was consistent on all ends. And it's just been a really great experience collaborating with the Film/Video unit. They've been so helpful in giving us so much knowledge that we didn't have before. So we're really grateful for that.
CO: Yeah. And I think too, just that level of expertise often isn't even accessible, let alone for emerging young documentary filmmakers. And so, being able to first have that space and that time for your work to be looked at and reviewed just meant a lot to us, and you could tell that they cared about the project as well. And then, having the opportunity to sit in on sessions with Paul, and his wealth of knowledge, it's just really cool. First and foremost, just seeing someone do what they do best is like, really quite a witness.
Ampe is playing Cinema Columbus in a program that's clearly geared towards adults and doc lovers, and also showing at the Wex as part of a day of events geared towards young people and families. From the Wex side, I'm wondering, what do you hope girls will take away from watching this film?
IO: I think one of our main goals that we're consistently revisiting is that we want other young Black girls across the diaspora to see, whether it's picking up a pencil or picking up a camera, the stories that they feel are relevant to them—the mundane, everyday things of life that may get looked over by the outside world, but to us are a very significant part of our upbringing, our culture. I think that needs to be documented more, and that's one of our goals, because a lot of times things just get forgotten if they're not written down. If it's nowhere to be found in the history books, it's as if it never existed to begin with, and we don't want our stories to be that. We want them to last a lifetime. An eternity, even.
CO: Yeah, definitely. And I think culturally as well, with there being over 10,000 Ghanian immigrants in Columbus, and weighing all of that alongside the Nigerian immigrants, Eritrean immigrants, Ethiopian and Somali immigrants in Columbus—the list goes on—I think we really just want to leave a lineage behind. Just being Africans, the arts and media space isn't often encouraged, so it is shifting and that allowance is changing through our parents and their flexibility to receive that talent and interest from their children. So yeah, we want to be the people that maybe other younger artists who are African and immigrants can [look at and] be like, OK, Ife and Claudia were able to tell this story, and they can continue that. Not to say that we are perfect by any means, but just a trail in a mirage of stories.
Top of page: Ife Oluwamuyide and Claudia Owusu, image courtesy of the filmmakers
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