Anas Aremeyaw Anas is a well-known an investigative journalist who has been honored by President Barack Obama, has received multiple awards, and has the nickname ‘the James Bond of Ghanaian journalism’ for his tremendous contribution in catching “bad guys” in Ghana. Anas is a person who looks for criminals, and helps the police to catch them. Nobody really knows what he looks like, not even me, despite having a unique chance interviewing him back in April, during Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. In Chameleon directed by Ryan Mullins you will find out many interesting facts about modern hero, who hides behind the mask. A hero, who does not need to show his face in order to do things not many would do nowadays.
This is why I had no rights losing a rare opportunity to interview the person, who I must say, fascinated me with all his achievements, impressive track records that all journalist should and must do. Below you will have a chance to read what filmmaker, Ryan Mullins and Anas had to say in order you to get know more about the person, known, as Chameleon.
Carlton Cinema – 20 Carlton St
MOVIEMOVESME: It is always hard to find a documentary subject because it has to speak loud to the audience. So how did you find out about Anas and who introduced you to him?
Ryan Mullins: Without going out specifically with the name of the person who introduced us, it was a mutual acquaintance of ours. I’d done some work in Ghana back in 2008, when I made my first short film, and then I came back to Montreal where I did a few other projects. But I was looking for ways to get back to Ghana and this person sent me this article about Anas, which was the incredible story of James Bond of journalism. I was immediately captivated and wanted that to be my next film. She was able to kind of broker the first interaction of us. She vouched for me and said that I’m on the up and up basically!
MOVIEMOVESME: Anas has the right to hide his identity. So how big was the challenge to portray him in your documentary?
Ryan Mullins: This is something we wrestled with in the beginning because we have this great charismatic character but we’re not gonna be able to see his face, not gonna be able to make that connection that we ussually get through the eyes and emotional reactions. So how do we tell this story, how do we get people connected? Style is one thing, drawing people into this almost fiction kind of world, but you also want people to feel like these are also humans. So we had to surround us with his team, people that we could show on camera, people that would kinda stand in for him. Anas is also a very charismatic speaker, so in a lot of ways he is able to carry the weight of the film just through his gestures, the way he talks. So a lot things we were able to pick up on, use a lot of hand movement, relearning how to make a documentary because for me that was the biggest challenge.
MOVIEMOVESME: What made you become who you are?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Like I’ve said elsewhere, what I am or the kind of journalism that I do is a product of the society. It is when you have looked carefully at society and have decided that what can I do to help progress that society, so I do what I do because it’s absolutely necessary for society. My jouralism is based on three principles. It is important because there’s no point in doing journalism that ends up strengthening the bad guys. It is actually very frustrating to be walking on the street with the same bad guys, so my kind of journalism is about: If I say someone has commited a crime, to show how he committed the crime, how he planned and how he executed the plan. Then I put all this evidence, become a witness in the court of law to ensure that the person goes to jail.
MOVIEMOVESME: Not everyone will do what you do, but if we have more people like you in journalism it will make a big difference.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Well, it all depends on where you’re coming from. If that kind of journalism is not necesssary where you’re coming from why’d you do it? It is not going to be accepted. But if you definitely come from a third world country, let’s say Africa, where institutions are weak, then you definitely need this kind of journalism to make sure there is progress in society. So I don’t have problems with those who begrudge because it is their right to disagree, but I beg to differ because what I’m doing is about my people.
MOVIEMOVESME: Was there a particular day long time back when you said I need to stop this injustice and do something about it?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: I’m not a very studious person but I like to read and examine things carefully. I can’t say I studied very well the history of journalism. I know what happened in America and elsewhere. Journalism was the hallmark of a country in transition. If you compare a country that’s 50-60 years old with America, which is 400-500 years old. So it takes time in democracy to fan out things, to strengthen institutions. We have to team up with whoever we have to team up to make thingss right in the society.
MOVIEMOVESME: You keep saying that there is a need to make the society a better place. You also say our life is very short. Can you talk about it?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Well, it’s the same thing we’re talking about. Ideally, everybody will want us to grow by day; grow by a picture of what journalism should be, that journalists should keep evidence by their chests, it should differentiate between security agency, it should be involved with government. I’m saying that. I don’t have life of 400 years to wait for my society to get developed. If I have a meaningful way, it is realism. If I have a way to contribute to the society, to make it a better place, I will wait for the epics to become the same. Life is short and I can live for a maximum of 80 or 90 years and within this time I have to do my best to make it a better place.
MOVIEMOVESME: You’re someone who doesn’t do much interviews, you’re a person of action. So what was the reason behind being part of a documentary film, is there a message?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: The message is very simple that if we want to make our society better, it doesn’t take any superhuman. The film demonstrates that I come from an average home, I’m just like any other human being and to my people the message is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, if there’s supposed to be a change, it is you who must make that change. You don’t need someone to fly from America or Canada or Amsterdam to come and make that change. If there’s going to be any change, you’re the one who understands the problems better. So you commit to a more meaningful purpose in society than anything else. If there are heroes, we are the heroes of society and nobody else.
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you feel when you hear news of people behaving heniously, exactly opposite to what you preach?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: It is a sad feeling and I’m beginning to think that because of social media now, journalists begin to think that the role of a watchdog can be done by anyone now. Police brutalities that happen, journalists should chronicle everything. But today when you see all the news coming out, it is people who would rather step on their foot. We should be asking ourselves as journalists,”Why is it that today people feel that they have to use their phones to film?” It’s because journalists are not there for them and if the journalists are not going to be there, we are missing out on a social responsibility, that’s why society has taken up on themselves to defend itself. That’s a very sad spectacle. If there is nobody reminding us of the evils of society, people, instead of helping us, they’d put pictures on social media. So this is the effect of journalists sitting idle and thinking that all is well in their society. You can only continue to grow if you keep checking the working of institutions and I’m very sure that what is lacking in the West is the fact that nobody checks institutions. All have assumed that these institutions are working but don’t know there are problems with it.
Ryan Mullins: I think that’s a really good point that Anas brings up. At least in the West, sight of distrust in journalism now and people have grown worry some of journalism that’s kinda lost its way. So you see a lot of citizen journalism, people taking up the mantle on themselves to kinda tell their own stories because they feel they’re not represented properly.
MOVIEMOVESME: Imagine you’re standing in front of a thousand people, both good and bad, to them?
Anas Aremeyaw Anas: I guess the message is that if there’s ay change that can be made in society, they are that change and no one else. To the bad guys, I’ll remind them again and again they are not going to be able to commit their crimes forever. That change that is around them is what is going to stop them from omitting those crimes. One day someone will knock on their door and put them in jail.