“In Ghana here, what makes a person weak is money. If you don’t have money, you won’t survive here.”
Those are the first words spoken in The Money Stone, a documentary following the journey of three Ghanaians: two young men and an older one in the gold mines.
Those words hint at the irony of many of the world’s poorest countries: there is too little money and yet it is the most important thing. That the irony is easily explained by elementary economics does not make it less stark.
The narrator tells viewers that he plans to “make it big” and is one of a group that calls themselves Galamsey, meaning “Get rich quick”. They are largely unskilled workers looking to take advantage of Ghana’s mineral resource, even if they understand that the “gold is ghost. If you are lucky, it shows himself to you.”
In a country of uncertainties, even the smallest chance of finding wealth inevitably attracts many citizens. And few are as vulnerable to these attractions as the youth and the poor.
One of the documentary’s young subjects is young, poor and comes from a family fending for itself by selling onions. The older subject works with children and is trying to dissuade the youth from heading to the mines.
Both old and young subjects are in impossible situations because of the shortage of options. The kid going to school understands that those school hours could be financially rewarding in the mines. One could say thinking about the future would mean only heading to school. But the trouble with that perspective is that the poor can’t afford the future.
For the older subject, his decision to help young Ghanaians avoid the mines is based on an experience he had as a younger man. He survived a disaster and three of his colleagues died when the mines caved in during one session. “If I had died, where would have been the family today,” he asks. The experience changed his life and the filmmakers attempt to recreate the incident, employing claustrophobic shots to emphasise the loneliness of the episode.
It should be said that the artfulness of aspects of this documentary and the way a story is carved out of the lives of these Ghanaians by an American filmmaker sometimes heightens the voyeurism that is an inescapable part of documentaries of this sort and complicates the politics. But the story told by director Stuart Harmon needs to be told. You might want a darker messenger—but the news is the news.
The Money Stone will be showing at the 2019 AFRIFF and is scheduled to screen on Thursday 15th November 2019.
Time: 6PM Screen: Filmhouse Landmark, Screen 4