In “The Destiny of Lesser Animals” director Deron Albright and writer/lead actor Yao B. Nunoo paint an unhappy picture of life on the coast of West African nation Ghana. Boniface Koomsin (Nunoo) is a police inspector in the Cape Coast region, but is trying his best to break free and return to the bright lights, big city of New York, where he spent time as a young man. But following his deportation back to Ghana after 9/11, he finds it much harder to return to the States and desperate, saves his paychecks for a counterfeit U.S. Passport that, no sooner does it finally reach his hands, is stolen.
Left with only the plate number of the motorbike that took off with it, Koomsin decides to use his police resources to search for the false document, under the guise that the thief had stolen his gun. His investigations take him to the city of Accra, where he is assisted in his search by Chief Inspector Darko (Fred Amugi) and is quickly ushered into an underworld of crime, which doesn’t just involve stolen passports, but weaponry, violence and call girls.
A dip into the crime thriller genre for sure, but ‘Destiny’ is only a dip. With a heavy amount of dialogue and not a whole lot of action, the film is ultimately about self-discovery and pride in one’s roots. Long considering himself an outsider meant for other things, Boniface is skeptical of his place in a country that he doesn’t see as progressive. However, Darko, who very much becomes a mentor and friend to Koomsin, helps the young inspector turn his focus to the beauty of what’s infront of him, as opposed to that Western horizon.
Throughout his investigations, Koomsin is confronted by a shy beggar child (Xolasie Mawuenyega), who at first seems a mythical element to the story: a haunting and recurring confrontation with a personified (yet adorable) version of the country he’d like so badly to leave behind. Yet by the end of the film, he finds himself no longer searching for his stolen fake passport, but the little girl who seems to have disappeared. When he finally finds her and brings her home -- which is somewhat odd considering she’s not a kitten -- it seems that Koomsin has also found his identity, as well as destiny, in the home he never considered as such.
While, again, the talk of the film can make it lag, the lead performance by Nunoo is thankfully solid; the actor is in nearly every frame of the film and he carries it well, bringing us into Koomsin's journey and mental anguish as he faces some hard realities. It becomes clear early on that the crime element of the story is definitively in the backseat, and once settled into the realization that there’s not going to be any shootout we’re building towards, ‘Destiny’ is a thoughtful look at a man rediscovering the country that raised him, and how he finds happiness where he never thought he would. It’s also a wonderful showcase of a country that one rarely sees justified on film [or in this case, video].
But as the filmmakers revealed, both when we caught them on the red carpet as well as during a Q&A after the film, that was their intention.
“I always wanted to write a story about Ghana, but never thought anyone would want to go there with me,” laughed Nunoo, but fortunately the writer and actor found a teammate in director and producer, Deron Albright, who he had met in 2004 at a diner while auditioning for one of Fulbright’s earlier films. With a small crew in tow, the two took off to Ghana to film a slightly different version of Nunoo's original script. The first iteration of the project was actually meant to take place in the States, but it was a professor at film school that encouraged him to bring the story home. “I’m an immigrant [from Ghana] and I’ve always wondered what it would have been like if the visa stamp was rejected. When I went to film school I was really big on post war Japanese cinema and a big influence [on 'Destiny] was Kurosawa’s ‘Stray Dog,'” an influence that can still be seen in the final film, though the heart of the story evolved to centering on Ghana itself. “We were going to let Ghana become a character, we infused a lot of history, politics and started moving away from what you would call a genre movie,” Nunoo explained. “I don’t think there was a day that we weren’t rewriting,” added Fulbright, “We were constantly trying to reinvent shots, trying to reinvent what was on the page, into what we could get on [video].”
The location was certainly a challenge, even languages would change on a daily basis – Ghana has several that are nationally recognized – and while there are English subtitles, Fante, English, Pidgin, Twi and Ga can all be heard throughout the film, “The script was all written in English, and then we decided based on the scene, what language characters would be speaking with each other. [Culturally speaking] two professionals meeting for the first time would be speaking in English and then find a common language and switch, so we tried to stay true to that,” said Fulbright.
And while Ghana’s neighbor to the North, Nigeria, has a large video production industry, Ghana itself has fewer filmmaking resources. However, much like the director of “Viva Riva” Djo Tunda Wa Munga (who we talked to earlier this summer), Fulbright and Nunoo are excited to be bringing filmmaking resources to the region and demonstrating that it is possible for filmmakers to tell compelling stories there. “I think the African people have a growing desire to see themselves reflected on screen,” said Nunoo. Fulbright agrees, saying that he’s excited to be making a film “that showed Africa and Africans not as object but as subject, not as a place of war and poverty, but of real people doing real things.”
You can check out the trailer, as well as upcoming festivals it will be playing at www.destinyoflesseranimals.com. [B-]