Friday, 22 February 2013


One of the films to be screened.
Africa's largest film festival begins tomorrow in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, amid some concerns that the conflict in neighbouring Mali could have an impact on both the attendance and the atmosphere.

But Michel Ouedraogo, the “delegate-general" of FESPACO (the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) has promised that security will be ensured.

At a recent briefing in Paris to unveil the event, Ouedraogo expressed his country’s “solidarity with the people of Mali”, while stressing that “Africa has a tolerant culture”. The organizers also pointed out that the festival has seen three coups since its beginning in 1969, but is still going strong.

Now in its 23rd edition, the biennial festival will screen 169 films from 35 countries over the next week, with the selection of the winning director eagerly awaited.

This year, for the first time, the Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), based in  Brussels, will give an  award of 3000 euros in the framework of the ACPCultures+ Programme. The award will go to the film that best reflects the objectives of the programme.

“We’re doing this because we strongly believe that culture is important to achieve  sustainable development,” said Michèle Dominique Raymond, the ACP Assistant-Secretary General for Political Affairs and Human Development.

“There is no future without culture,” she told SWAN. “We want to do our best to find means to provide some financial support to filmmakers, having in mind the global financial crisis.”

The festival’s central theme in 2013 is “African Cinema and Public Policy in Africa”, and the debates around the topic have ironically focused on the festival itself, with some observers wondering if it costs too much in a country where the 2012 unemployment rate was over 70 percent. Other critics wonder whether the event is too “elitist”.

"Cobwebs" tells a Malian story.
Responding to such questions, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Baba Hama said that the festival’s organizational cost of 978 million CFA francs (2 million dollars) brings returns in the form of increased tourism and development of African cinema.

He said that while the government of Burkina Faso and the European Union provided the largest share of funding, invaluable assistance also came from some NGOs and external organizations.

The festival has enabled African filmmakers to gain international attention, and also offers the public a means of seeing Africa's stories on screen, the event's supporters say.

Burkina Faso itself will have only one movie among the 101 feature films in competition, with the rest coming from South Africa, Morocco, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Angola, and other participating countries.

Mali will be represented by "Toiles d’araignée" (Cobwebs), the first feature film by Ibrahima Touré. It tells the wrenching story of a young woman named Mariama who rejects the old husband that her father wants her to marry and who is tortured and imprisoned as a result.

The film is an adaptation of the eponymous novel, by mathematics professor Ibrahima Ly, who himself was incarcerated from 1974 to 1978 at a time when Mali was under military rule.

The festival's “guest of honor” this year is Gabon, which celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence in 2012. According to Ardiouma Soma, FESPACO’s Artistic Delegate and head of programming, the Gabonese were already making films at the dawn of African independence. “This is a country that was part of the birth of African cinema,” Soma said.

The Gabonese entry in the feature film competition category is “Le collier de Makoko” (The King’s Necklace) by Henri Joseph Koumba Bididi. Filmed in Africa and France, it has been touted as the first high-budget film by an African director.