Ouagadougou isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one considers the glitzy world of movies, yet Burkina Faso‘s capital has hosted the pan-African film festival Fespaco for more than 40 years and showcases some of the best talent on the continent. Every two years, the streets of Ouaga, as the city is known, liven up to the beat of djembe drums as thousands of film fans fill the city’s maquis (open air barbecues) and exchange silver-screen banter with the Ouagadoulais.

The film projections are often grainy and the sound distorted, yet the cinemas are packed. And this year, Fespaco, which runs until 2 March, is something different — a film festival with a conscience. The theme is African cinema and public policy, and more than 100 films are being screened, of which 20 will be competing for the coveted Etalon d’Or. Many of films cover some of the most hotly debated topics in Africa and elsewhere. Here’s a selection of the films:

The Cut

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/YcV4rLIvldk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Directed by first time film-maker Beryl Magoko, The Cut documents female genital mutilation (FGM) in her village in western Kenya. The film reveals, in uncomfortably graphic detail, how a small number of villages perform FGM on their children. Magoko tells of her experience of FGM as a 10-year-old child. “I came under a lot of peer pressure from my sister and my school friends, so I too wanted to do it. It was torture,” Magoko told the Guardian. “You just bleed and suffer, and the medicine they give you is herbs with sugar water. The following year, people came to the village to explain the consequences of FGM. This is what I needed, but it was too late for me. I want to show my film in the villages on mobile cinemas alongside seminars, so young girls don’t have to suffer. The government, too, needs to be pressured to punish and make examples of people who continue to illegally circumcise their children.”

Virgem Margarida

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/QFIAFCcpJYU” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Based on the shocking testimonies that Licínio Azevedo collected for his documentary, Virgem Margarida, tells how the Mozambique government set up “re-education camps” for prostitutes to make them “new women” in the spirit of the 1975 revolution. The women were taught to cook, build homes and till the land. They band together to fight for independence from their “liberators.” Today, though, much has changed. Both in Mozambique and globally, women continue to be victims of male-dominated ideology. The film will strike a chord with those who supported the One Billion Rising campaign.
La Pirogue
<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/Tbg140PT2Hk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
This is based on the true stories of thousands of Senegalese men who braved the perilous 1,500km journey to Spain on wooden boats (pirogues) in search of jobs. Moved by the story of his mechanic, who spent a week surviving on water and biscuits to prepare for the hunger on such a trip, director Moussa Touré tackles the topic with a perfect blend of Senegalese culture and humour, while raising critical questions about illegal migration and its root causes. “This film is for the Senegalese politicians, because it is about young people who need hope, and they are the ones who can provide that hope.