Movie fans, if you’ve got an open spot on your calendar on Thursday, June 13, you might consider making a trip to Plaza Theatre for Videodrome’s mash-up event with Chicago’s Deadly Prey Gallery. Deadly Prey Gallery, founded and curated by Brian Chankin, traffics in a pretty niche type of artwork: hand-painted Ghanaian movie posters.
“I’ve been collecting these hand-painted movie posters from Ghana for the past nine years,” says Chankin, “but the gallery has officially been a thing for almost five years. Deadly Prey Gallery sits in the kitchen of my Chicago apartment, but I do traveling exhibitions quite often.”
The posters Chankin collects, painted by Ghanaian artists on two flour sacks sewn together as a canvas, were the original advertising arm of a once-booming film industry called Ghanaian Mobile Cinema. According to Chankin, it was a “business [that] started in the late 1980s when artistic, industrious groups of people formed video clubs. With a television, VCR, VHS tapes and a portable generator, they’d travel throughout the country, setting up makeshift screening areas in villages void of electricity.”
Painting the posters on flour sacks was a deliberate decision, says Ghanaian cinema expert Robert Kofi Ghartey — Chankin’s direct connection to Ghana’s poster artists.
“There is a saying in Ghana,” Ghartey says, “‘A good name is better than riches.’ Mass-produced posters do not last, and it also destroys and tarnishes your image as an artist. That’s why we take our time and invest a lot of effort to come out with a unique finishing in order to maintain the tradition and the reputation of the Ghana movie posters. The flour sacks are very strong, flexible and have a smooth surface. [They’re also] always available on the market, which makes [them] convenient to use.”
The sacks also lend a specific aesthetic to the movie posters. They’re bright and graphic, with a rugged, vintage throwback appeal.
Chankin stumbled onto the posters, and onto the West African cinema industry they helped sustain, via his video store, Odd Obsession Movies.
“Nine years ago, a friend brought in the book Ghanavision, and I freaked out,” says Chankin, “researching all I could on the posters immediately. I found a handful on eBay and replaced the paper posters that formerly lined the walls in favor of these giant, super wild, colorful, hand-painted ones.”
Chankin wanted to increase his inventory, which is how he connected with Ghartey, who would supply Chankin with more (and higher-quality) movie posters and connect him to the artists who painted them.
“To my surprise, not only was he in touch with them,” Chankin says, “but many of the original artists from the ’90s were his close friends. It turns out Kofi worked in the Ghanaian Mobile Cinema as a kid.”
These connections let Chankin begin commissioning new posters for specific genre titles, including all five Death Wish films, which was how Deadly Prey Gallery was born. Today, it’s Chankin’s goal to educate people about the history of the posters and to support the artists by continuing to commission their work.
Access to cinema has increased in Ghana since the heyday of its mobile cinema industry. But at its height, screenings included Hollywood action movies starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, horror films, “low-budget American schlock,” Bollywood features, martial-arts films and movies native to Ghana and Nigeria — some of the same types of genre films Atlantans flock to Videodrome to find, which made the Deadly Prey event a perfect fit.
“Through social media, we realized we had all been following Deadly Prey’s Instagram page individually,” says Videodrome’s Matthew Booth. “We would send texts of Brian’s updates, tagging each other in posts of paintings that were too incredible to keep to ourselves. One of our former employees, Michelle Dixey, contacted them about doing an exhibition and got the ball rolling. We brought our friends at the Plaza Theatre into the fold, and they are excited to host.”
Chankin is excited, too. He was on board to make a trip to Atlanta as soon as Dixey approached him with the idea.
“Multiple things appealed to me about coming to Atlanta,” he says. “I’d known about Videodrome for years, so when Michelle Dixey started to chat with me about the idea, I was already all in given their reputation. I love to travel and show these posters wherever folks will have me, but hanging them in great old historical movie theaters is truly where it’s at. When I heard Plaza Theatre would be the venue, I was ecstatic.”
The event, which will feature a gallery exhibition of Chankin’s poster art and a live Q&A with Chankin, will include a screening of the “absolutely bonkers” film The Devil’s Sword.
“Devil’s Sword was a favorite of the Ghanaian Mobile Cinema, as was just about every other crazy Indonesian action movie starring Barry Prima. [I’m] incredibly excited for the event.”
Chankin and the Videodrome team share a similar goal of expanding film culture in their respective cities.
“And our clientele are [both] interested in active film experiences,” says Booth. “The gallery show is going to be one of the most unique art exhibits to come to Atlanta, and The Devil’s Sword, which we’ll be screening, is a film that begs to be seen with an audience of friends.”