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Doug Fishbone: Elmina

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

New Yorker Doug Fishbone talks about his film Elmina, in which he joins the cast of an entirely Ghanaian-written and produced film melodrama as the lead character. There is no explanation for Fishbone's difference, leading us as viewers to question our preconceptions of fiction, narrative, cinema, and race. Take a look at the artist's unique project as he guides us through big questions about roles and representations in film.
Created by Tate.

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Video transcript

My name is Doug Fishbone and I'm an American artist based here in London and I work mostly in performance and video. And my most recent film which is currently on at Tate is a full length feature that I shot in Ghana with a Ghanaian production company. "When these people come to buy your land, let them buy your land. Because the beginning of the future is now." Basically I'm plonking myself into a Ghanaian melodrama, you know, it was a script written by an African team and directed and produced by an African production company but I just am assuming the lead role as though you gave somebody a script and instead of actor A who was originally was going to be in it, put in Fishbone without any change to the script so there is no mention at any time about the fact I'm clearly the odd man out, you know, I'm a white guy from New York and I'm acting the lead role in a West African melodrama with the whole cast being Ghanaian. "For those who are so stupid, short sighted that they want to sell their land. How much are they going to be compensated for vacating their land?" Well basically I play a fella named Atub Lankson who is a farmer in the Western Region of Ghana near the city of Elmina which is where the piece takes its name and I'm fighting against the local authorities, the local Chief's government to save my land because the Chief wants to sell off all the land in the area to a foreign corporation. So I'm standing up to the Chief because I don't want to sell my land and I think that basically they're trying to swindle the local populous in order to sell out to what turns out to be actually a Chinese oil company. "I'm not here to preach, but [inaudible00:02:12] in our beautiful town, hallelujah. We're being cheated by the white people. That's always happened. That doesn't mean we should allow it to continue." In much of my work I like to look at how different audiences perceive the same thing and take from it very, very different things or bring to it, very, very different things in terms of their context. It's a piece that works as a story with a Ghanaian audience. Everyone in the cast is well known in West Africa and then there's me, my presence. But again it's never, never mentioned or referred to that I'm white because really then the issue then becomes, am I white or what is the nature of this character and that's never explained and I think the ambiguity there opens up a lot of very interesting questions about the nature of cinema is the nature of representation, how audiences interact with fiction, how far can people extend the suspension of disbelief and still kind of take a narrative on its own terms without saying, you know what, this is too nuts. "[woman screams] You must go now. What have I done?" I always had a kind of dual distribution idea with it, so here it's on at the Tate and in an art context in a gallery so you can come and see it in a gallery but eventually in a few weeks' time, we're going release it on DVD for sale throughout Africa and immigrant communities so it will have a kind of double life like the central character itself which is both various things, white, black, you can never quite pin it down. Is this piece an art piece or a piece of popular cinema. It's both at the same time