Pan-African film festival challenges pandemic and jihadists

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Ouagadougou (AFP)

Africa’s largest film festival kicks off Saturday in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, delayed eight months by the Covid-19 pandemic and overshadowed by a brutal six-year-old jihadist insurgency.

Seventeen feature films are in the main competition for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), the biggest date in the continent’s film and television industry.

Held every two years, the hugely popular festival was originally scheduled for February 27 to March 6, but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The impoverished landlocked country is also grappling with jihadist gunmen who have killed around 2,000 people since 2015 and forced 1.4 million people to flee their homes.

“We are aware of the (security) situation and all measures have been taken,” said festival director Alex Moussa Sawadogo.

Staging the event, he said in remarks last month, demonstrates that Africa “continues to create, to dream, to be able to face the evils that undermine our societies”.

Launched in 1969, FESPACO is closely followed by the American and European film industries, who seek the event for new films, talent and ideas.

Burkina Faso AFP

According to its rules, the films selected for the competition must be directed by Africans and mainly produced in Africa.

The 17 feature films, selected from 1,132 entries, are in the running for the coveted Yennenga Gold Standard, a trophy named after a mythical beast from Burkinabè mythology.

Their directors hail from 15 African countries, although there is only one from the host country.

Egypt has two suitors, and there is one each from Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania and Tunisia.

Star quality: Burkinabe actress Mouniratou Gouem at FESPACO 2019
Star quality: Burkinabe actress Mouniratou Gouem at FESPACO 2019 MARCO LONGARI AFP

A 17th comes from Haiti, reflecting this year’s theme “Cinémas d’Afrique et de la diaspora”.

The shorts category includes 29 entries, both fiction and documentary, including five from Burkina Faso and four from Senegal.

– Representation of Sankara –

One of the documentaries is particularly timely.

Burkinabe journalist Richard Tiene’s Thomas Sankara, the human, looks at the life of the country’s revolutionary icon, shot dead in a coup in 1987 – a traumatic episode that reverberates today.

The play is shown just days after the trial of the alleged assassins of Sankara in Ouagadougou. Among the accused is ex-President Blaise Compaoré, friend and comrade in arms of Sankara, who reigned for 27 years before being overthrown by a popular uprising and fleeing to Côte d’Ivoire.

Sankara, a dedicated Pan-Africanist, remains a revered figure in left-wing circles
Sankara, a dedicated Pan-Africanist, remains a revered figure in left-wing circles DOMINIQUE FAGET AFP / File

The festival begins Saturday evening at the Palais des Sports, during ceremonies in the presence of Burkinabè President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, with Senegalese music stars Baaba Maal and Didier Awadi headlining.

The films will be shown in cinemas around Ouagadougou, including an open-air theater on Place de la Nation in the heart of the city, Sadowogo said.

An international jury chaired by Mauritanian producer Abderrahmane Sissako, who won France’s coveted César in 2015 for “Timbuktu”, will select the winner on October 23.

Once the festival is over, a “mini FESPACO” will tour the north of the country affected by the jihadists to show films for the local population.


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