Africa’s biggest film festival opens in Ouagadougou

Africa’s biggest film festival opens on Saturday in the capital of Burkina Faso hoping for a revival of the continent’s ailing cinema industry.

The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, or Fespaco, which runs from February 24 to March 3, is a two-yearly event gathering more than 3 000 film types from across the continent, from South Africa through Mali to Morocco, as well as from the African diaspora.

Ironically, this year’s event takes place as the curtain comes down for cinemas across the continent, but also as African films rake up top international awards, feeding hopes of a new golden age in the years to come.

South Africa’s Tsotsi last year won Oscar celebrity status, picking up Hollywood’s coveted best foreign-language film award. It is one of two South African entries among the 20 feature films competing for Fespaco’s top prize, the Etalon d’Or de Yennenga or Golden Stallion of Yennenga.

Also competing for the top Fespaco award this year are two films from Chad, including one that last September won the Venice Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize — Daratt (Dry Season) by Mahamet-Saleh Haroun.

Haroun, who is 45 and has shot three feature films, plans to buy a block of land in the Chadian capital Ndjamena to build a cinema there.

With the exception of South Africa and Nigeria, cinema houses have been closing down one after the other across the continent, the African monthly Continental said in its February issue. Senegal’s last cinema shut down last year, Congo-Brazzaville’s seven cinemas have been sold to churches, of the eight cinemas in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde, only one has survived.

”African film is in crisis and the closure of cinemas is only the most visible sign,” the magazine said.

After receiving state backing in the post-independence 1970s, producers, directors and distributors have largely had to fend for themselves since the 1990s, when governments cut funding due to pressure from world financial institutions.

With little funding, few to no cinema schools and a poverty-struck public, African film-makers have had to look abroad for support.

Gabon’s entry for the top award, L’Ombre de Liberte (Shadow of Freedom) by Imunga Ivanga, for example, was five years in the making, three of them spent drumming up funds for the modest budget of just under €1-million ($1,3-million).

Also competing for the Etalon d’Or de Yennenga — a reference to the mythical founder of the Mossi empire, whose descendants make up 40% of the country’s 14-million people — are films from Benin, Burkina Faso (three), Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea (three), Mali, Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal and the north African states of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The 20th edition of Fespaco will also feature awards for TV-video films and sitcoms as well as for short movies.

And the African International Film and Television Market (MICA) will be held on the sidelines in a bid to help buyers and distributors to screen African film. – Sapa-AFP

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