The Belgian produced documentary Sakawa (screening on the first night of the 2019 Toronto True Crime Film Festival) is a fascinating, non-judgmental, and somewhat darkly comedic fly-on-the-wall look at the criminal lengths some will go to in an effort to escape from abject poverty.
First time feature director Ben Asamoah travels to Ghana to document the lives of men and women who troll the internet for single, lonely, and hopefully wealthy young men to lure into romance traps. Almost exclusively targeting older, white Americans and Europeans, these cyber-scammers will use information they’ve obtained off discarded hard drives, simple Google searches, fake Facebook accounts, voice disguising technologies, and any number of other well honed, underhanded tactics to nickel and dime their “clients” out of varying amounts of cash.
Sakawa is strictly observational in its approach, and while the actions being captured on camera are deceitful and illegal, Asamoah is careful to not look upon his subjects too harshly. In Ghana, getting a good paying job is nearly impossible without a degree, and a degree is nearly impossible to come by without the money to pay for it. As far as criminal enterprises go, these love scams are also far less risky and dangerous than trying to make it as a low level thug or less-than-legitimate street vendor.
These scam artists take their jobs very seriously, often huddling together in settings that look like start-up call centres and overseen by various supervisors who provide tips and advice on how to deal with clients who might be getting wise to their deception. Many of these young men and women have families and don’t have bank accounts. Some dream of travelling out of the country on a vacation for the first time. Others pray nightly for windfalls so they can’t get out of the game. Some want to purchase farmland to provide for their children. Many want to open legitimate businesses, and almost the same amount just want to make enough money so they can get laid.
Sakawa is a film examining raw truths faced by those living well below the poverty line with few tangible job prospects and even less opportunities for government assistance. These con artists often joke about some of the more disreputable aspects of their job (and they’re admittedly pretty funny and spot on in their assessments of human nature), but that’s what one does to keep from crying or getting bogged down in guilt and regret. Sakawa shows to an exceptional degree the rewards and tolls of living a life of poverty and crime.
Sakawa screens at the Toronto True Crime Film Festival on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 9:30 pm at The Revue. 15% of all ticket sales will be donated to The Learn and Uplift Foundation.
Check out the trailer for Sakawa: