Africa Film WebMeeting

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Thu, 14 Mar 1996 11:50:39 -0500

Originally from: <owner-african-cinema-conference@XC.Org>
Originally dated: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 11:50:39 -0500

The 14th edition of FESPACO took place from February 25 to March 4, 1995.
can contact their office at: 01 B.P. 2505, Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso.
226-30-75-38. Fax: 226-31-25-09. Here's an article I published in Toronto
weekly NOW Magazine about the festival. Manthia Diawara also published a
piece in the Village Voice, March, '95. Hope this helps.
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OUAGADOUGOU (FESPACO)<F255D>, February 25 to March 4, Ouagadougou, Burkina


@DROP CAP TEXT = OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO <197> Touch down in Ouagadougou
and like Sly Stone said, it's a family affair. Brothers and sisters backslap

and shout clear across the baggage claim, and these aren't just the African
Americans. Here, landlocked between Ghana and the Sahel desert, right in the

heart of west Africa, thousands of pilgrims are returning to the source.

The PanAfrican Festival of Film and Television of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) is
one of the biggest cultural events on the continent, and the oldest black
film festival on the planet. Every two years, planeloads of film freaks
all over Africa, Europe, the Americas and even Asia descend on this dusty
city of just under a million. They're here to celebrate the thirst-quenching

power of African images, in a country that is to black cinema what Jamaica
to black music <197> colossal beyond its size.

This year FESPACO is growing like a bomb. Sixty-six countries represented.
Twenty-thousand people at the opening ceremonies. Three <I>Canadian<D> films

in competition. And here leading the first ever delegation from South
Vice Minister of Culture Winnie Mandela, presiding over the splashy opening
ceremonies in a rare break from strife back home.

Such spectacle is common in a country that still favours socialist populism
in its public events, even if the permanent revolution is losing ground to
Levi's. Free screenings of festival films are held each night in the usually

deserted Place de la Revolution. The streets between FESPACO headquarters
the prime neck craning site at the Hotel Independence are lined with market
vendors selling African wares at euphorically inflated prices. It is a
people's festival in every sense of the word.

Last year the value of the West African franc was cut in half. So while
Burkinab<130> people are struggling like never before to put food on the
table, foreigners -- especially those from France, to which the local
currency is tied -- are having a great time. What buys a postage stamp in
Paris pays for breakfast in Ouaga.

Colonialism has lingered here so long it's in every crevice, but somehow the

local sentiments aren't as vicious as elsewhere. Unable to celebrate 100
years of cinema with early home made experiments as Berlin did, FESPACO
countered with a retrospective of colonial films. Every afternoon, people
gathered to watch French and British shorts with clever intertitles like
"Bushmen are normally very shy, but they can't resist a banana!"

In a neat reversal, jury president and grandfather of African cinema Ousmane

Sembene insisted that we watch these films not in anger and hatred, but in
order to begin to see ourselves in that darkness.

Sembene presided over FESPACO with his characteristic populist edge. At the
awards ceremony he made the crowd scream their own choices for the top
Yennenga Stallion prize before he announced it. It was a foregone
Guimba, the latest by Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko was the buzz film

all week long.

A Mali-Burkina co-production, it's a big, impressive historical epic with
contemporary echoes too sharp for Mali's government, which did everything it

could to block its shooting. Sissoko (Garbage Boys, Finzan) tells the story
of a leader raised high by his tyranny and brought down just as fast. The
story, the lavish costumes and images, and the history of its production all

parallel breakthrough Chinese epics like Red Sorghum and Yellow Earth.
African film watchers are desperately hoping that Guimba follows their

Burkinabe star director Idrissa Ouedraogo (Tilai, Yaaba) is credited as
"presenting" Guimba, and even though he had two of his own films here, he
kept a pretty low profile. Afrique, Mon Afrique, his foray into AIDS
education made for the Red Hot organization, is a breezy story of an
musician in Abidjan, told with handheld camera and bizarre plot zags. His
feature Le Cri Du Coeur is a mainly unloved drama of an African boy in

African film critics here are starting to dismiss Ouedraogo as a maker of
"French movies," which, depending on who you talk to, is worse than
matricide. The battle over what is truly and correctly African cinema got
louder at this FESPACO, and it continues to act like a vise on the
imagination of both filmmakers and audiences.

Drissa Toure's Haramuya might be one way out of the essentialist trap.
Drawing on the increased money madness caused by devaluation,
Toure (Laada) has made a fast-paced movie about a city of cons and strivers.

Haramuya makes Ouagadougou its central subject, and tosses a dozen or more
characters at the audience with reckless, exhilarating speed. It's like
Cuts in the Sahel.

This year marked the big league arrival of African Canadian cinema at
FESPACO, with Stephen Williams' Soul Survivor screening in the feature
competition, and shorts by Clement Virgo and Cilia Sawadogo competing for
short prizes. Virgo's Save My Lost Nigga' Soul won the Paul Robeson Prize
best short film from the diaspora, worth 500,000 devalued CFA, or about
$1,500. That these films screen here and make contact with their African
counterparts at all must speak to continuities that are stronger than the
differences of 400 years.

Actually the continuties are everywhere. The city's oldest cinema, the Cine
Oubri, was designed apartheid-style, Jim Crow style, with different seating
for blacks and whites. It dates from the 60s.

The sidewalk stand across from the Oubri is a good place to watch the Ouaga
parade. Burkinabe ride by on mopeds or in brand new European sedans with the

windows rolled up tight. In this town of heat and dust, that's the ultimate
status symbol. The tailor and dressmaker across the street is open past
midnight. Men walk by loosely holding hands in the sort of non-sex affection

that would get them beat up in Toronto. Further down the street is the Seoul

Colour Photo shop and a Lebanese restaurant -- Ouaga multiculturalism.

What I love most about this city and its festival is their ability both to
comfort and surprise. Bats still swoop down on the pool at the Hotel
Independence once night falls. You can still hear nuns sing at the L'Eau
restaurant. Jimmy's disco still caters to the international jungle fever

But one night last week in a brilliant move no one's been able to explain,
FESPACO hosted the Burkina premiere of Pulp Fiction, screening out of

@BULLET = <195>

> Can anyone help me with information on the Pan-African Film Festival at
> Ouagadougou (FESPACO)? Especially the last one that was held (I think it
> in 1995) and the films that were screened.
> I'd be grateful if anyone could suggest journal or book articles on the
> topic.
> Thanks
> Zoe Salonitides

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