The 20th FESPACO ( Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) takes place between 24th February and the 3rd March in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (The name means “Land of honest men and was changed from Upper Volta by the late revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara).
Every two years, the desert city of Ouagadougou becomes the center of Africa film from the continent and Diaspora. The festival has grown from its inauguration in 1969 when only 5 countries were represented (Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger and Cameroon) to this year with films from almost every country and the Diaspora being represented. Every two years, the desert city of Ouagadougou becomes home to African film from the continent and the Diaspora.
In 2005 the South African film DRUM (set around the famous South African magazine ” Drum”, the film is about the forced removals of black people from Sophia Town) took the grand prize. 2005 was also the year when two Hollywood productions were shown, Hotel Rwanda and the far better “Sometimes in April” both dealt with the Rwandan genocide. Commenting on the 2005 film festival and the lack of availability of African films to both local and the wider global community I wrote
The unfortunate thing is that very few of these films will be available to a wider audience outside of the film festival circuit. African films to do not bring in millions of dollars to cinema houses around the world and Africa itself has very few cinemas where films can be viewed by a large number of people. Some of the films may be transferred into video or DVD format but even these are so expensive that only organisations could afford to buy them.
So why are African films so expensive that local African TV stations cannot afford to screen then and individuals like you and I cannot afford to buy them on DVD or videos, that’s if we can find them in the first place. The answer lies with the California Newsreel. They own the distribution rights to many African films enabling them charge exorbitant prices to institutions and individuals for screening and DVDs. Distribution takes place through their “Library of African Cinema”. For example check their restrictions on the cheapest option “home videos”.
On a positive note these issues will be addressed this year as part of the thematic discussion “African Cinema and Culture and Diversity” which will include topics such as the state of African cinema and issue of distribution
This year’s talk of the festival is the film “Bamako” by Malian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako. The film takes a critical look at the World Bank/IMF and their impact on grassroots communities in Africa by putting the institutions on trial with two ordinary people as witnesses.
The film tells the story of MelÃ©–a bar singer–and her unemployed husband Chaka. Their marriage is coming apart. In the courtyard of the house they share with other families, a trial is under way with the World Bank and the IMF accused of the woes of Africa. American actor Danny Glover, who helped fund the film, has a bit part.
I also looked at the contribution by African women to this years festival starting with Cape Verdian film maker, Claire Andrade’s film “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? (A Cape Verdean American Story) has been selected to compete for the Paul Robeson Diaspora Prize.
SKFPR? is the largely unknown story about immigrants from the Cape Verde Islands in the Fox Point neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, the second oldest and largest Cape Verdean community in America. The film opened theatrically in the United States in January 2006 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts to a sold out house. The documentary continued throughout 2006 to receive critical and popular acclaim at theatres, festivals, universities and select venue screenings.
Other African women showing at the festival are Zimbabwean writer, Tsitsi Dangaremgba [documentary – “Growing Stronger“]; Rwandan, Jacqueline Kalimunda [documentary – “Homeland“]; Algerian, Fatma Zorha Zamoum [Short “LA PELOTE DE LAINE”].