“Togbe” is one of the funniest and most moving documentaries of this year. It tells the story of Henk Otte, an unemployed construction worker living on disability in the projects of Amsterdam. In 1995, Otte traveled to Mepe – an impoverished village of 300,000 in the African country of Ghana – to meet his wife’s family. A tribal elder there had a vision of a white man from abroad, a reincarnation of their beloved king, who would help save Mepe from its economic plight. The elder’s revelation was fulfilled, and Otte was soon crowned a chief – or, as it is known in Ghana, Togbe.
In January 2000, David Klawans, an independent film producer, discovered Otte’s story on the Internet. Fascinated, he contacted two fellow NYU film school graduates, Rob Aitro and Sherman Lau. Aitro and Lau agreed to co-direct the documentary. Several months later – joined by two more NYU film alumni, Brett Albright and Sven Davison – they were in Amsterdam with Otte.
Problems arose almost instantly, as an offhand remark Otte had made in an Associated Press interview came back to haunt him. Denied his travel visa by the Ghanaian consulate, Otte was stuck in Amsterdam, and the crew uncertain if their film could be made at all. But, refusing to give up – and encouraged by Otte’s commitment to the people of Mepe – the crew finished shooting in Amsterdam and made the long trip to Ghana. More complications ensued, of course, involving everything from the local currency and cuisine to the presence of a serial killer in the area. The crew persevered, and ended up celebrating Otte’s five-year anniversary as Togbe along with the spirited people of Mepe.
Eighteen months later, their film is completed and making the festival rounds. “Togbe” has already been met with calls for a boycott, as reported in The Ghanaian Chronicle, Ghana’s largest newspaper. In fact, the filmmakers have come full circle: the first public screening of “Togbe” will be at the Docs for Sale section of the upcoming Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival.
Film Threat caught up with the filmmakers behind the year’s most bizarre and hysterical documentary in this fascinating roundtable discussion…
Get the interview in part two of WORKING CLAss KING: THE STORY OF “TOGBE”>>>