ACCRA-The Rex, a single-storey, slope-roofed movie house was once the hotspot for film fans in Ghana, but, like many of the country’s cinemas, it hardly shows movies anymore. The building is now abandoned, except on Sundays when dozens of evangelical Christians cram through its century-old walls for weekly, boisterous prayers sessions. The Rex’s fate is part of a wider decay of film-going culture in Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence and which became the hub for the continent’s film industry in the immediate post-colonial era, experts said.

But a 29-year-old Ghanaian-American filmmaker, Akosua Adoma Owusu, has launched a plucky grassroots effort to save the picture house and fight the trend. The “save-your-local-landmark” campaign is commonplace in the West but remains a rarity in some developing countries like Ghana. For Owusu, the motivation behind “Damn the Man, Save the Rex” was partly personal: after building a reputation abroad as a maker of short films, she realised there was nowhere to show her work in the country of her birth.  “Whether it’s short films or performance or anything, you have to kind of pay a venue to screen your work,” Owusu said. Owusu, who won the best short film award at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards and whose productions have been added to the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum in New York, managed to raise $9,000 (6,700 euros) online.

It was enough to hire out the old movie hall for a night and show her latest work. But she has bigger plans and wants to convert the Rex into a dedicated artistic space. If “Save the Rex” succeeds and the structure built in the early 20th century by Lebanese immigrants becomes a permanent film-screening venue, it would double the number of functioning cinemas in Ghana’s capital. Currently, the only working movie theatre is an American-style cineplex embedded in an upscale shopping centre.