Africa Film WebMeeting

Message from: Prema Qadir (
About: FESPACO Preliminary Report

Wed, 30 Apr 1997 07:46:59 -0700 (PDT)

Originally from: Prema Qadir <>
Originally dated: Wed, 30 Apr 1997 07:46:59 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Friends,

Aloha! Habarigani! and BARKA! (as they say in Burkina Faso)

In the spirit of open communication and empowerment, I present this
preliminary report on my experience and impressions, after having attended
the 1997 International Pan-African Film & Television Festival of
Ouagadougou, (Burkina Faso, West Africa) - aka FESPACO.

For those who attended FESPACO, excuse me for saying what you already know.
I composed this message so that those who did not attend
could follow my train of thought........

I am going to build a photo-journal web site on the Internet to share
pictures and stories about my first-time experience at FESPACO. It will be
yet another "act of love".... a volunteer effort which will evolve slowly
as time and energy permit. Perhaps it will be finished by the time that it
is time to think about going back, again! = 8< o

The "working" title of my photo journal is: "Africa Film Review: 1997
FESPACO Report". I welcome stories and pictures from others
who would like to contribute to this effort.

I attended the 1997 Pan-African International Film & Television Festival of
Ouagadougou (FESPACO Film Festival) in the West African country of Burkina
Faso. Prior to this year, I've only been to Senegal, Ghana and Cote
d'Ivoire. Burkina Faso is wonderful too.

While in Burkina Faso, I had the pleasure of meeting the US Ambassador to
Burkina Faso and the Premiere Counselor at the US Embassy in Ouagadougou,
both very nice people. I'll tell more about them in my forthcoming report.
I mention them now, because they were the ones who impressed upon me how
important it is for one to speak the language of the country that one
chooses to visit in Africa. More on this later......

FESPACO is a biennial festival.
This year was the 15th session of FESPACO!
The next FESPACO will convene in the year 1999 and I'll be there!!!!

While I didn't spend time shopping (I love to circulate money in the
economies of African countries) or being a tourist, I had a wonderful time
watching films made by Black Africans (including American Africans and
other Africans in the Diaspora).

FESPACO has been likened to the Cannes Film Festival of France. Indeed the
French influence dominates FESPACO (France colonized Upper Volta which
became Burkina Faso after independence).

I saw about 5 films per day for almost a week! + 8< D
It was absolutely marvelous.

The viewings were scheduled at several theaters in the capital city of
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Viewings began as early as 8:00am and continued
throughout the day until past midnight.

It was not unusual to meet film makers, producers, actors, writers,
production crews, etc...... many of them attended the viewing of their
films. However, I was told that this was the first year that the FESPACO
organizers could not afford to offer discounts and supplements to
struggling film makers who wanted to attend the festival. People were
getting there on shoestring budgets and many not at all.

Africans are manufacturing all manner of motion pictures: films,
documentaries, features, and video programs! I was very impressed with
several movies which had tastefully executed erotic love scenes, action
adventure scripting/acting, films about real women, and of course the
traditional "we is poor-sick Africans" kind with the richness of nature in
the background. Even they were refreshing for a girl who never saw an
*African* film before.......

I tried to see films from as many different African countries as I could.
Most of the films I saw were sub-titled in French. I particularly like the
few films I was able to see from Cameroun, West Africa. And I love the
clothes from Cameroun. I want to go to Cameroun!

There was a wonderful film from Zaire about a fictitious African Dictator
whose passion was the game of Drought (Checkers). This was one of my
favorite films. The cinematography was really interesting. The film was
called "Le Damier". This movie was comedic while imparting a serious
perspective on *dictators* of African countries. It was shot in Black &
White and spoken in English.

I mention Le Damier now because I am reminded of how happy I was that I
could understand the dialogue. Most other films were filmed using a Tribal
language or French and then subtitled in French. I saw a lot of films but
most of them were incomprehensible to me because I don't speak French and
the film action was not demonstrative so that I could not pick up meaning
by watching action.

Actually, it was very apparent that, like Air Afrique, which is Air France
in Black-Face (equally as rude to Americans, by the way) -- FESPACO appears
to belong to the French.

Since Burkina Faso is a French-speaking country, everything is there is in
French. You can't get a taxi, barter for souvenirs or order your food if
you don't speak French. That was a culture shock for me.

I've never experienced being treated like an "American" until I flew to
Africa. From the moment I entered the Air Afrique terminal at JFK Airport
in New York, until I returned home to the U.S., I was constantly reminded
of how powerful the animosity is between France and people who don't speak
French. And the people who weren't born in France are often more *french*
than the French!

BTW, Steve, I finally read the article you sent me - "African Festival's
Filmmakers Search for New Angles, and Audiences", thanks. You jotted a
note on the copy of the article which asked if I agreed with most of the
article. The answer is YES!!!!

I found that I was much more tolerant of the fact that FESPACO is more a
*French* thing than a Pan-African thing. Although I understood no dialogue
at most viewings, I was thoroughly happy to watch the action. It felt so
goooood to see films with Blacks dominating the screen. I was ecstatic!!!!
Films made by Africans for Africans. It was wonderful.

I found it distressful how French-speaking people hissed at the few English
language films. People actually would get up and walk out on an
English-speaking film. If FESPACO is going to continue to claim to be a
*Pan-African* festival, then I hope the festival organizers will do
something to level the playing field for the rest of the African continent
and the diaspora.

If it must of necessity (because they are sponsoring it) be a "French"
thing, then I don't think they should purport to be a Pan-African festival.
In that regard, I thought a lot about this on the plane heading towards
Burkina Faso. I wondered how the language barrier would be handled. I
assumed that there would be a lot of films spoken in *tribal* languages.

I was prepared for sub-titles and I guessed that the sub-titles would be in
French, although I hoped that there would be some kind of way to provide
French and English sub-titles. I know it isn't easy to satisfy

I considered that the language issue would be mute because it's whose
backing the film that influences the language spoken and dubbed. It was
interesting for me to observe how language became a barrier to festival
organization and film appreciation.

Hmmmmm..... I wonder how this listserv will serve to improve African Film
Distribution and Festival Organization by it being hosted in the English

Luckily for me, my intuition was strong enough that I managed to be present
at the viewing of the film that won the overall FESPACO Film Festival
award. I shook hands and took photographs of the Director and I met some
of the festival judges at breakfast one morning!

i have to keep saying, I had a great time because I really did.

For those of you who did not attend FESPACO, the winning film was "Buud
Yam" , directed by Gaston Kabore of Burkina Faso. This year was the first
year that a Burkinabe film won the prestigious Stallion Award. I have
copied a brief description of the film plot, in English, at:

These are my contemporaneous thoughts for the moment.
I'd like to hear other peoples perceptions of FESPACO.

love, prema = 8< )

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