Do filmmakers still care for FESPACO?

FESPACO, or as it known as by its full name, the Festival of Pan African Cinema in Ouagadougou, opened its 23rd annual edition Sunday. The theme: “African Cinema and Public Policy in Africa.” Created in 1969, it has become the largest film festival on the continent devoted to providing the space for African cinema and attracts film industry professionals from around the world, boosting the international attention afforded to African filmmakers. Held biennially, major hitters in African film have won its top award, the Golden Stallion, in the past several years. Ethiopian filmmaker, Haile Gerima, won in 2009 for his film, “Teza.” Mohamed Mouftakir won in 2011 for his film, “Pegasus.” This year’s FESPACO is supposed to also be the year of the woman.

All of the juries will be headed by women. Algerian director Djamila Sahraoui’s “Yema” opened this year’s competition. Ouardia (played by Sahraoui) is a woman who, suspecting jihadism in her family, has to bury her murdered son. Ouardia struggles to find normalcy, finally concentrating her efforts on reviving a garden.

Here’s the trailer:

Gabon is the “guest of honor” at the festival, and will feature seven films in this year’s competition. Feature film “Le Collier du Makoko,” by Gabonese director Henri Joseph Koumba-Bididi, has reportedly broken records due to its high budget.

With neighboring Mali embroiled in conflict, this year’s competition is held with some tension. Michel Ouedraogo, the festival’s delegate general, has emphasized the security of the event. There is one Malian feature length film featured in this year’s competition, “Toiles d’araignées” (Cobwebs) by Ibrahima Toure. Toure’s first feature length, this tells the story of Mariama, a young woman forced to marry an elderly man whom she subsequently rejects, and is consequently imprisoned and tortured.

These highlights are just some of the 169 films (101 feature length) from 35 countries that will be screened over the next week. For the first time this year, an award of 3000 euros will be provided from the Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (the ACP countries) to the film that best fits with the ideals of the program. The growing prestige surrounding the prize has been the main reason festival organizers have not budged from their requirement of only accepting films shot on 35mm, something not all are impressed with.

Nigeria, home to the world’s second largest film industry, has only one director featured in this year’s competition, Paris-based Newton Aduaka. Some have grown disgruntled with the notion that the only Nigerians featured are those based in Europe. Since most Nollywood films are in digital format, not celluloid, they aren’t eligible for entry into FESPACO. Cinematographer Tunde Kelani said that though he respects FESPACO’s position on accepting only celluloid films, he hoped that they will soon consider the modern trend of using digital.

11 thoughts on “Do filmmakers still care for FESPACO?

  1. This is a very poorly reflected and researched post for a blog that claims to be on top of all things African. Something that one could write without ever setting foot in Ouagadougou during Fespaco. Is this the best you can do? Or are you scared of being taken hostage in West Africa?

  2. @Fatou Toure: That is a misrepresentation of the post; it is merely previewing the festival. I am not sure how the post can lead you concluding “… are you scared of being taken hostage in West Africa?” In any case, as I pointed to another commenter above, we plan to interview some of the participants post-festival.

    • This is my 5th Fespaco over a period of 16 years and even though I am not a film expert, I think that there could be so much more written as an intro post about this unique festival (both good and bad things). It seems like your post was written in a style that you usually criticize in other journalists writing about Africa. You are so critical of others but this blog post strikes me as superficial and not well informed. So it seems like it s a typical journalism about Africa, writing about things happening in one African country from the comfort of an bureau on the other side of the continent, hence the remark about being scared (of being in situ).

  3. @Fatou Toure: Thanks for the input and I envy your 16 years going to the festival! If you read the post, it is actually a celebration of the festival’s prestige and resilience. It is only near the end that it asks a necessary question–which is about the relation between “art” and “popular art/culture”–that it probes some questions about Fespaco. We could have asked about the relationship of the festival to the government of Blaise Compaore. Perhaps post-festival, we can also interview you, including asking you these hard questions.
    Finally, on the comparison to Western journalists: they hardly, if ever, write about festivals like Fespaco.

    • @SeanJacobs I do not see the question about relationship between “art” and “popular art/culture” in your post and besides for me this dichotomy does not merit taking time to discuss anymore anyway as it is over and done with (I write about this in relation to religion here: )
      There are lots of problems with Fespaco though, including very poor organisation, delays in screenings, lost films, etc. And the fact that they are closing down the old open air cinemas that Ouagadougou was famous for. Still, a great place to see lots of African films, not all good (Le collier du Makoko which you write about above, is really terrible, one cliché after another).
      Also great gap between francophone and anglophone audiences within Africa.
      Anyway, you guys have lots of things you could write about if you choose to do so.
      Enough said, I’m off to see more films and drink some cold Brakina.

  4. too bad the columnist is so defensive, but worse the writer is simply wrong on the facts. the snide responses to readers’ remarks is what makes Africa Is a Country so often such a stylistic disappointment: “We’re right about Africa and you can’t possibly think we’d listen to little old you?” is the vibe this puts off – and it is off-putting. it’s so obvious you are sitting in your righteous chairs in new york city. lol. – particularly funny given the big piece you’ve done on the African Film Festival in, of course, New York City. Jeepers.
    RFI and BBC have reported from FESPACO for years – so the idea that Western media ignore it is plainly and blatantly false. this is such a poor overview of FESPACO it leaves me scratching my head. to then throw in an aside about Compaore is just bizarre. Nigeria has long not been a part of FESPACO, this has been covered over and over. Nollywood films are a genre that actually has a festival all of its own – actually a few. It would have been more honest (and constructive) to appreciate the issues Nollywood raises for the other countries’ film industries – but that doesn’t go well with the new york set, who would have to get out a map, i guess. It’s clear from the way this is written that FESPACO is given a giant dis. “We’ll talk to filmmakers after the event” – What? Are you kidding? Oh, I get it, then they’ll be worth listening to, right? Why don’t you talk to them on their terms at the festival honoring them? “We’d love to talk to you, too” oh critical remark writer. Very nicely patronizing, thank you.

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