Review: Sodom & Gomorrah (2019)

Asafoatse Nettey Quarshie, a chief in Jameston. Photo by Curtis Essel

One of the most memorable titles from the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival’s international competition is a one-man experimental documentary Sodom & Gomorrah, produced by the London-based visual production collective 33BOUND. The man behid it is the director Curtis Essel, one of the Getty images Array grant winners for the project “Agya” (Father, 2018), which later on was nominated for the Best UK Short Film at the BFI Future Awards in 2019.

It is an unforgettable journey into the Jamestown district of Accra (Ghana) known as Sodom & Gomorrah, as one of the main protagonists, Scorpio, explains it “because all women are prostitutes”. This masculine take on misery born out of lack of perspective is less spiteful than dryly honest, as the man continues to speak about other problems that community’s facing on daily basis.

Essel’s attention is turned towards four people whose destinies are told in their own voices in form of voice-overs, almost convincing us that we can read their minds. The facial expressions, even an occasional laughter, match the chain of thoughts voiced in the film. Every movement is tuned to the sound, showing that Essel could be called much more than a director since every single technical aspect of the film is handled by him.

Visually strongest is the first third of Sodom & Gomorrah that concentrates on the story told by Zinatu, a young woman who was kidnapped from the market at the age of 13 and brought to Nigeria where she had seven children with that man. Back home after 23 years, penniless and “orphaned”, she does the only thing that can provide her with income. Curtis Essel films the woman in monochrome tones at the beach, wild waves crashing behind her back, experimenting with the narrative forms and framing. One moment, Zinatu is in the centre of the frame, the next we are inside of the waves and back to face the wave rolling straight into us.

The next protagonist gets a completely different photographic treatment, and he is in a sun-bathed setting warmed up by cheerful colours. Anthony known as “Scorpio” is a troubadour, a commentator and the critic. Finally, a young man telling about his petty crimes could be any of the faces Curtis Essel is showing with his wandering camera. The light is blue now, turning faces into striking contours.

Finally, the viewer is introduced to a fascinating personality – Asafoatse Nettey Quarshie, a chief in Jamestown ( a “senior Asafoatse”) who’s trying to help his community to fight prostitution, corruption and crime through a skilled training programme. His workshops made many people wanting to finish their schools or specialize in certain crafts.

Country: Ghana
Language: English
Experimental, documentary
Runtime: 9’44’’
Director: Curtis Essel
Camera/ editing: Curtis Essel
Sound design/ sound editing/ sound mix: Curtis Essel
Produced by: 33BOUND
Cast: Zinatu, Scorpion, Quarshie Asafoatse Nettey