Pan-Africa festival of film projects a renewed sense of optimism

By  | 

Fans, stars and film-makers travel to Burkina Faso for 25th Fespaco, the biggest and most popular African film event in the world

The audience were taking no chances: as the sky brightened over the city in the morning, they lined up outside Cin Burkina in scarves and horn-rimmed glasses, keen to be the first to catch Frontires.

The film is the poignant tale of the multiple dangers faced by four African women trying to get across west Africa to Lagos by bus including rape, extortion, hijacking and road accidents and their developing friendship along the way.

Most of those attending had crossed borders themselves to be there, albeit less hazardous ones than the Frontires characters, so it was a fitting start for the 25th edition of the pan-African festival of cinema and television (Fespaco) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the biggest and most popular African film event in the world.

A Fespaco festival-goer arrives on her motorbike early on Sunday morning for the first screening of the day at Cin Burkina. Photograph: Ruth Maclean/the Guardian

Hosted by a city that last year suffered a horrific terrorist attack by extremists, and a country that has just emerged from decades of repressive rule, the legendary festival was celebratory for reasons that went beyond African film and sometimes delved into the political.

This is the city of creativity, the city of culture, and the capital of African film, said Armand Bouind, mayor of Ouagadougou. Roch Marc Kabor, the president of Burkina Faso, said Fespaco had become the best vehicle for culture in our continent, adding: It has become one of the biggest places for sharing and discovery of African culture, through cinema.

Stalls selling fried fish and Fanta were being nailed together ready for the festival on Saturday night at Revolution Square, a key site in the countrys history, which recently got its name back after decades of being Nation Square.

It was named Revolution Square in 1984 by Thomas Sankara, the countrys popular leader who was assassinated in 1987, betrayed by Blaise Compaor, his best friend.

In 2014, the square was occupied by thousands of Burkinab demanding liberation from Compaor, who had by then ruled the country for 27 years and was trying to change the constitution so he could stand again. Blaise, cest fini, (Blaise, its over) and Blaise Ebola, dgage! (Blaise, get out!) reads graffiti still on walls across Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso was given its name, which means the land of honest people, by Sankara, the much-loved former president who thought using air-conditioning was too extravagant this in a country where temperatures reach the 40s and noses are filled with the red dust of the Sahara blowing in.

Rolling out the red carpet for the opening ceremony of the 25th edition of Fespaco. Photograph: Ruth Maclean/the Guardian

Sankaras name was invoked over and over at the opening ceremony, where koras and marimbas played the Burkinab dignitaries to their fold-down seats in the countrys municipal stadium, while people in elephant and zebra costumes plumped down on the astroturf, sweltering in the 37-degree heat.

Military officers in a rainbow of beret colours greeted each other, confused about whether to shake hands or salute before taking their seats for the spectacle; hundreds of policemen took up the front three rows of half the stadium, ready in case of a repeat of the terrorist attack at a Ouagadougou hotel last year, in which 30 people were killed.

One troupe of drummers and dancers after another flipped and shook their way around the stadium, each in elaborate costumes some whirling, whipping up clouds of dust in layers of red and yellow fringe and hooked masks, others dressed entirely in grass; others in giant lion and antelope heads.

Everyone was working in cinema under the leadership of Thomas Sankara. The theme of training falls perfectly under his vision, Bouind told the crowds, adding: We stand together against radicalism. Lets cultivate peace.

Conversations about how to support independent African film and train cinematographers are set to take place all over Ouagadougou this week; there remains a great need for training across the continent, said several of the film-makers who had arrived in town for the festival.

In our country, theres no film school, no government support we learn by ourselves and teach each other, said Kinfe Banbu, the Ethiopian director of Fre, a film about the rape of a young girl and her fathers revenge on the rapists. Production equipment is prohibitively expensive in Ethiopia because of high import taxes, he said, and in most cases film-makers support themselves by other means in Banbus case, with his restaurant business.

Bicycles parked outside the Cin Burkina. Photograph: Ruth Maclean/the Guardian

Banbus thoughts were echoed by Wana Udobang, one of the stars of Frontires, and a Nigerian film-maker and poet who only found out at the last minute that she would be delivering her lines in French. Its not just mentoring (that we need) everyone can learn from each other. The younger generation is more tech-savvy, and its the older generation who really have the stories, she said.

We could do with many more film festivals in Africa. Its important because of the distribution issue at least in Nigeria, there are certain kinds of films that make the cinemas and others that dont. So here, people get to see different kinds of films. So you dont have this monolithic idea of what African film is.

After independence, many African countries signed aid accords under which they were obliged to show a percentage of Hollywood films at their cinemas. While Burkinas cinema tradition is alive and well, Mali and Senegal have very few, despite those countries equally distinguished traditions of film-making.

Though there is no dearth of film-makers and ideas, it is often difficult for people in many African countries to see much film made on the continent. This should become easier soon as hundreds of old films, which for years have been collecting dust in a room in Ouagadougou, are being digitised by the Martin Scorsese Foundation working with Unesco and the pan-African federation of film-makers.

Back in Cin Burkina, a building of red brick, dark wood and triangular windows, the audience clapped, laughed and tutted their way through a feast of African film, many of them dressed in nip-and-flare outfits made out of orange fabric printed with the Fespaco logo, the African continent with an old-fashioned film camera pointed at it.

Banbu had shown his film at other international film festivals, but this was its first outing at an African film festival. The vibe is good. People are really positive and the excitement they have is amazing, he said.

Udobang, who hadnt yet seen Frontires despite appearing in it, was nervously preparing to watch. Soon I can actually be a participant and go and watch some films, she laughed.

Read more:

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

We use Google Tag Manager to monitor our traffic and to help us AB test new features.

Decline all Services
Accept all Services