Fespaco 2009: Concern

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A popular festive event, a convivial get-together, and the opportunity to discover and promote the latest African productions, everyone generally loves the biennial rendezvous of African film. In 2009, as ever, the Fespaco remained the site of meetings and debates, a festival forum. But the sharp increase in organizational problems so hampered the 2009 edition that these cannot afford to be overlooked. And if the 2009 Fespaco raised concerns, it wasn’t only for organizational reasons either.

Fespandemonium!
Fespagaille (« Fespandemonium ») was the term quickly coined. It reached unprecedented levels and was clearly detrimental not only to the Fespaco, but to the international visibility of African film too. There were a lot of reports of journalists who never got answers to their pre-festival accreditation requests and whose editors ended up not sending them. On the ground in Ouagadougou, the general impression was that the organizers, not ready in time, were left to try to muddle along the best they could, but were simply unable to cope with all the requests. This was no doubt mainly because experience acquired over the past was not passed on when this year’s new organization team took up office, and all the lack of forward planning and errors began again from scratch. But the Fespandemonium was also the result of other structural factors highlighted in the interview with Michel Ouedraogo, the new Fespaco delegate general, who replaced Baba Hama (now spokesman of the Burkinabe presidency). What is at stake is the organizational and financial autonomy of a Fespaco that is increasingly struggling to manage its expansion and the attribution, on time, of a budget needed for an event of this size. At Michel Ouedraogo’s own request, we need to look at these difficulties and to confront them head-on. The following article is not a list of complaints, therefore, nor an apportioning of blame, nor does it claim to have all the answers; it simply aims to contribute to the necessary collective reflection if the Fespaco, so dear to us all, is to remain a tool at the service of the filmmaking we defend and enjoy.
Delays in the availability of funding are a classic case scenario: all good African festivals face this dilemma. When it’s not the financial backers, it’s the ministries. Suppliers are unwilling to provide their services until a deposit is paid, and as the banks refuse to advance the funds, nothing moves. In the case of the 2009 Fespaco, not only were there cuts in international contributions, but the delays built up and, on this front, the Burkinabe authorities beat all the records. This resulted in guests’ plane tickets not being delivered on time, in tickets having to be negotiated at full rates, in hotels favoring individual client bookings over festival reservations, and so on. The organizers even found themselves out of ink to print passes just before the festival started. The problem is that all expenses have to be endorsed by a financial controller from the ministry, who has an office at the Fespaco. Administrative lethargy, plus inexperience, plus lack of supervision of the 750 young and new employees meant that passes trickled in one by one to the pick-up desk and weren’t classed alphabetically. With 12,750 passes to hand out, the chaos was indescribable. Not to mention that the desk shut at 6 pm; not exactly ideal at international festival and in a city where it’s difficult to get around. « Come back tomorrow » went the refrain!
The printed program arrived on the Friday, and the catalogue in dribs and drabs half way through the festival. Professionals traipsed backwards and forwards from the Fespaco headquarters to the press center at the Hotel Indépedance-Azalaï trying to glean information so that they could organize their schedules. Spotting the chance to make a fast buck, students printed the program on the university photocopier and peddled it for five hundred CFA francs! The biggest joke of all was that when the catalogue finally did materialize, it was so full of glaring mistakes on the countries, the index was unusable, and the layout confusing, that it wasn’t of much help to anyone at all. It’s true that filmmakers and producers don’t always send information in on time, but that’s nothing new. As for the 6,000 bags donated by TV5 Monde, they were only handed out to a lucky few at the end of the festival.
A popular festive event? For want of a sufficiently well-known star, it was certainly the first time that the 4 Août Stadium wasn’t packed for the opening ceremony. Gone were the chaotic throngs jostling to park and enter a stadium already brimming to the full two hours before the show. As for the free outdoor film screenings on Place de la Nation or in the outer-lying neighborhoods, these were done away with in an attempt to channel the Ouagalese public back into cinemas specially reopened in the peripheral districts for the Fespaco: Wemtenga (Sector 29), Tampoy (Sector 20), Patte d’Oie (Sector 15), Pissy (Sector 17) and Somgande (Sector 25). The aim was to ensure ticket sales, which fund the cinema; 500 CFA francs a place instead of the usual two hundred to three hundred CFA. In short, significant changes that were only of benefit to the Fespaco. Ambitious, but in a context of an overall fall in interest in cinema in favor of television series, a gamble. By trying to compel rather than encourage popular enthusiasm around a few one-off events, the risk was of smothering this enthusiasm all together.
Is it because the prime minister used to be finance minister, or simply because there are difficulties in funding? Whatever the reason, from one Fespaco to the next, the Stallion card that gives access to all festival screenings leaped up from 10,000 to 25,000 CFA francs (fifty-one dollars!) Whilst affordable to Western budgets, this hike in prices was less affordable for African ones. As for the pass, it was worthless without the professional badge – a 2009 innovation – the only thing that gave access to screenings. But in the chaos distributing passes, there weren’t any professional badges. So either you queued at the office, or gave up. Most improvised, forcing their way through the crowds at the entrance to the films as best they could, waving passes as they went, or queuing to by a ticket each time (1,000 CFA francs – two dollars – in the two air-conditioned Burkina and Neerwaya cinemas). The press was supposed to receive an unlimited number of press badges, but it was never very clear…
It is difficult to maintain a balance between a popular event and an international festival: the Ouagalese complained they no longer had access to cinemas once pass-holders had taken up all the places. Attempts were thus made to force journalists to stick to the 8 am press screenings by demanding passes for the other screenings. Yet who can imagine a journalist making do with one screening a day to cover a festival? The outcome was mayhem: badly informed, employees started asking for passes even at 8 am. Then, confused and confronted with improvised papers in lieu of the awaited passes and press badges, didn’t know what to ask for anymore, and, under pressure from the crowd, let some enter and others not. As there were separate queues for pass- and ticket-holders, in the interests of business, the Burkina and Neerwaya staff let paying ticket-holders in first, thereby leaving pass-holders stuck outside each time there were a lot of people.
As a result, international pass-holders were soon at the end of their tethers and journalists struggled to do their work… Beat a retreat to the Hotel Independence? Usually the life and soul of the festival where everyone meets, the hotel, now called the Azalaï under its new Lebanese management, has been renovated, with big conference rooms to boot; a godsend. But, it has become terribly smart: the windows, normally joyfully plastered in posters and announcements, remained insolently clean. A smooth VIP atmosphere reigned and the fewer tables and sun-loungers around the pool made the place less conducive to discussions and exchanges.
The MICA, an essential market that brings professionals together on the fringes of the festival, now too big for the CCF, relocated to the SIAO, several kilometers away. Whilst this space was more functional, its distance reinforced the dispersion of the festival. In the past, the same CCF also hosted the Côté Doc documentary selection, but Ecrans, its organizer, was too slow in asserting its autonomy vis-à-vis a Fespaco reluctant to see another event rival its own program. So, even if it did create an important forum for encounters and debates in the past, this time the Côté Doc wasn’t held. As a considerable portion of the vast program was decentralized to isolated cinemas and screens on the outskirts of the city, and as many films were only screened one time, film directors struggled in vain to create a sufficient buzz to attract festival-goers.
What lessons can be learned from this pandemonium? Expertise was clearly lacking, to the extent that this twenty-first edition will go down as the most chaotic in history. One can only hope that the measures taken in 2011 to correct this will be proportionate to this extent of this mess. But it is above all the very structure of a Fespaco subjected to administrative rigidity whilst at the same time constantly expanding that is at stake. Unless it obtains real administrative and managerial autonomy, the Fespaco will never achieve the standing of a major international festival, and will risk rapidly being overtaken by another Pan-African festival, in South Africa, for example. And as money is the crux of the matter, unless there is a thorough review of funding and delays in funding payments, nothing will ever change.
The Fespaco for what cinema?
If the question of the Fespaco’s organization is crucial for its future, so too is that of its artistic quality. The 2009 Fespaco selection was as dithyrambic as it was disparate, and raised the question of its criteria and the way in which it solicits entries. In a context of a lack of screens, too many films didn’t satisfy anyone, resulting in a lack of visibility, single screenings, the frustration of not being able to get into the films that were being talked about, etc. Moreover, by selecting only the films that people enter, unlike most other international festivals which are far more pro-active in their search for films, the Fespaco condemns itself to respecting the necessary geographic equilibrium with stopgap choices. No one has forgotten the scene with the Moroccan national film board in 2007 when the only Moroccan film in competition was Mohamed Ali El Majboud’s The White Wave(1). Furthermore, the decision not to exclude certain countries from the competition, starting with the host country, even when production is weak, amounts to giving television fictions of very poor cinematographic quality the status of cinematic oeuvres.
Let us be clear: some excellent television films are true works of art, whereas many movie productions are mediocre. The essential criteria of a good film remains what it arouses in the spectator, whether the emotion it conveys stimulates the spectator’s desire to assume his/her place as a citizen and responsible human being. But the emotion is not in the message; it comes from an aesthetic that transforms the discourse into a work of art. It is a matter of mise-en-scene, of metaphors, of the imagination, and the actors that carry these elements.
As points out the documentary Sacred Places(2) shot in the St Léon district of Ouagadougou by Cameroonian director Jean-Marie Teno, more than ever in our crazy world, the issue isn’t to satisfy the audience, it is to engage it; the filmmaker is a griot, not necessarily a cultural activist, but someone with a vision which, because it is rooted in the wealth of a culture and its values, and is thus sufficiently reflected upon, has the ability to enlighten the world.
The rare surprises of the feature film competition(3)
As the Fespaco presents productions made over the past two years, some of the films screened have already done the rounds of festival and cinemas in the North. This was the case with a significant number of films from North Africa: the moving The Yellow House by Algerian Amour Hakkar (4) unjustly overlooked in the official awards list, but winner of the Inalco and Signis prizes; the pleasant Whatever Lola Wants by Moroccan Nabil Ayouch(5), and Algerian Lyes Salem’s delightful Masquerades, which one the Bronze Stallion Award(6). Sanaa Mouziane received the Best Actress Award for her role as a woman forcefully married to an impotent man and locked away on his rural property in Samira’s Gardens by Moroccan Latif Lahlou. The sensuality of the film and female character, who cheats on her husband, provoked protest from Morocco’s religious quarters, but the film remains highly chaste. The film’s interest lies elsewhere, in its metaphor of a society full of restrictive social conventions, of a class that possesses without giving or receiving pleasure, and a context in which women are used without being allowed to flourish and animate society. This is conveyed in an oppressive, very classically filmed behind-closed-doors setting in which the woman suffocates and seeks a necessarily tragic and pessimistic way out.
Also from Morocco, and on another sensitive subject, Mohammed Ismaïl’s Farewell Mothers (Wadaan Oummahat) focuses on Moroccan Jews’ departure in the early Sixties, as recently did Hassan Benjelloun’s Where Are You Going Moshe? too (7) Whereas Benjelloun based his story on an amusing anecdote -Schlomo, the Jew, runs the only tavern where Muslims are able to drink wine -, Mohammed Ismaïl depicts a more sociological chronicle of an era in widescreen, based on two families, one Jewish, the other Muslim, and through a multitude of characters. Jews in the Arab world feared attacks in revenge for certain prominent Jews’ collaboration with the colonizer, who had employed them as low-ranking servants and opened schools for their children. European Jews’ creation of the state of Israel put them in an even more delicate position and, to a certain extent, the film testifies to the violence perpetrated against them. It insists more, however, on the pressure exerted by Israeli agents through the character of Mr. Benchetrit, an immigration recruiter who fuels fears about the dangers facing the community, lauds the promised land and organizes the clandestine departures. The ties between the two families necessarily unravel. Even though limited due to cultural differences, the ties nonetheless persist through Fatima, who instructs children left alone after a Jewish parent’s death, teaching them the signs of their cultural belonging. A sort of novelistic historical reconstitution in the form of a puzzle, the film focuses less on the narrative plot than on effects of pathos, with chromo landscapes and symphonic flights orchestrated by Kamal Kamal (The Moroccan Symphony). Apparently the jury was won over, as it attributed the film the Best Music and Best Décor awards. Farewell Mothers is more interesting in the point of view it adopts – resolutely on the Jewish side -, in what it shows of the structuring of the Zionist movement via the scout movement, and in its reference to political machinations. Like Benjelloun’s film, it suggests that the close cohabitation between Muslims and Jews was peaceful and that their departure created a dearth of human resources that severely set the country back. We implicitly understand that, historically, this diversity would have helped promote democracy.
Whilst films from North Africa represented over a third of the feature films in competition, Tunisia was only present with the disappointing The Other Half of the Sky (Shtar M’Haba) by Kalthoum Bornaz, already in competition at the JCC. Based on the worthy aim of denouncing the inequalities facing women with regard to inheritance rights through the story of the twins Selim and Selima, the film struggles to find its rhythm and coherence.
Egypt was represented by critic Ahmed Atef’s third feature film, Cairo Demons (Al Ghaba). His aim was to reveal the shock of street children’s « true reality », as he put it. Mutilation, rape, revenge attacks, murder and parricide, nothing is missing from this gallery of horrors. The problem with this accumulation is that it leaves the characters no depth, and they can only exist on the screen either in violence or in sentimentality set to syrupy music (earning him the Best Sound award).
The same violence was present in Jerusalema by South African Ralph Ziman, which the jury apparently liked as it won the Best Image, Best Editing and Best Actor awards (the later attributed to Rapulana Seiphemo). Adopting all the gimmicks of the action film, Jerusalema offers efficient Hollywood-style images, wham-bam editing, and a hunky hero. Via a prisoner’s flashbacks in the middle of an interrogation, it portrays his life-story, from the rise in teen delinquency in Soweto, to the attempt to break out of a mortal spiral of violence, before getting caught up again in it even worse as he embodies a highly ambiguous African Robin Hood who collects rent to his own benefit and to the detriment of shady landlords. The problem is that next to this Kunene, who is already far from being an angel, violence oozes from the gangster Nazareth’s every pore and the main dealer is naturally Nigerian. Each conforms perfectly to an array of stereotypes in a country where, in reality, people suffer, massacres to boot, the tragic consequences of a xenophobia that these same clichés aggravate. Jersualema can be classed in the same vein as Tsotsi, these black gangster films shot by Whites, a distant echo of the blaxploitation movie, which, by portraying townships as lawless hoods, blithely reinforce the belief that violence is black, or imported by African immigrants, rather than drawing on the violence of apartheid which so destructured the country. It is this violence that Michael Raeburn’s Triomf (Zimbabwe), a considerably less sensationalist, but far more disturbing film – overlooked in the awards list – reveals in an incisive and provocative manner (8). To top it all, Kunene gets away with a case full of banknotes and the ultimate moral of the film is « adapt or die », rather than the words of the Bible that his mother quotes in vain: « If I forget you, O Jerusalem… »
Nothing But the Truth, adapted from a play by the South African actor, theater director and playwright John Kani, who directed and acted in the film himself, also deals with violence, but in a completely different manner. Well-handled, if very classic in style, it won the Silver Stallion award thanks to its humorous evocation of the painful memory of apartheid. The return of Themba, exiled ANC hero’s ashes when everyone was expecting his coffin for a full funeral ceremony, gives his brother, Sipho, the opportunity to unwind the narrative, in a series of flashbacks that little by little demystify the opportunistic activist and concomitantly highlight the abnegation of those who remained at home bearing the full brunt of both racism and the inevitable day-to-day disappointment after the victory of 1994. John Kani was an activist himself, imprisoned in 1976 as a result of his theatrical work, which gives an interesting echo to this re-reading of history. His brother was killed in the anti-apartheid riots of 1985, which Kani evokes in the film in the relation between Sipho and his son who wants to go demonstrating. Resolutely in favor of reconciliation and forgiveness rather than vengeance, Nothing But the Truth explores how a family can maintain its unity even when the truth is unveiled.
Violence is present to varying degrees in a number of films, to the extent that the critics of the Africiné bulletin (9) saw this as something of a trend: African film is forcing itself to confront the issue. « Habitually reluctant to show violence, in 2009, through a diversity of approaches, filmmakers have made it one of the central preoccupations of their films. So that we revel in it? No, to alert the public to the negative developments at play in urban Africa. The emotion provoked by these scenes of violence aims to alert and mobilize », they wrote in the editorial of bulletin n°10. There was the historical violence of Mengistu’s Ethiopia and racism in Haile Gerima’s Teza (Ethiopia) (10), which, thanks to its energy and the force of its introspection, unsurprisingly won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga and the Paulin Soumanou Vieyra African Critics’ award, attributed for the first time this year. But also political and ritual violence in Fantan fanga (Power of the Poor) by Adama Drabo and Ladji Diakite (Mali), which sadly does not excel in its cinematic qualities, but is noteworthy for the way in which it positively depicts a civil society that takes itself in hand as the president’s departure opens a can of worms. « The poor have no power; vital energy is their force », says the hunter. It is the message of « the voiceless », the handicapped, little people, homosexuals, the rejected, who preach « the wind of change ». Doussou, the policewoman whose name means « courage », leads the enquiry into the murder of an albino who has been assassinated in an attempt to gain power and glory, a practice that still takes place and which hits the news at every election. Presented as the sequel to Taafe fanga (Skirt Power), and similarly calling on cultural values, Fantan fanga is deeply rooted in the present.
« We can dream! » wrote the Africiné critics in the editorial of bulletin n° 11: « In Fantan fanga, a minister demands a transparent police enquiry ». Indeed, they point out, « after widely condemning the elites in the vein of Ousmane Sembene’s early films, filmmakers are portraying virtuous leaders. What’s the point in continuing to recriminate, as nothing has changed? Happy ends extolling lawful states, human rights and good government, not just in the sense of a lack, but of a dream to be fulfilled too, confer a joyful and salutary positivity. »
This is also the case in Missa Hebie’s The Armchair (Burkina Faso). Backed by the Minister, a new Director General refuses the endemic bribery, nepotism, corruption and wheeling and dealing that reign in her department! The Burkinabe public homed in on this, choosing The Armchair for the RFI Audience Award. They weren’t worried about the pure television drama quality of the film, in which, given the rigidity of the mise-en-scene, everything is carried by dialogues that are all the more theatrical as they are in French. What mattered was to live out one’s hopes through this student militant turned business woman, still true to her ideals, and who, what’s more, represents a determined female figure whilst at the same time remaining moving in her fragility before the vastness of her task both at work and in her couple. That the jury awarded the film the Oumarou Ganda Best First Feature Film award was more worrying, however, as this prize generally rewards cinematographic quality. Missa Hebie is not a young newcomer; he made his name in television series, co-writing the twenty episodes of Commissariat de Tampi (« Tampi Police Station ») and directing the forty episodes of L’As du lycée (« High-school Ace »), which won the Best TV/Video Series award. So, is television the future of African film?
Has the acceleration in cinema closures, recently illustrated by the shutting down of the last three remaining movie theatres in Cameroon, left a bigger place for television productions? The example of Boubakar Diallo’s Lionheart (Burkina Faso) is emblematic. Following public success after public success, for this tenth feature, the filmmaker shot a film set in the seventeenth century, clearly inspired by illustrious predecessors such as Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Tilaï, using HD digital and with a 150 million CFA francs budget (c. $305,000) (11). Diallo described it as « a major project », in preparation since he first started making films, and in it addresses the question of African participation in the slave trade. Even on this subject, and contrary to the winds of History, the story culminates in a happy ending: the white slave traders’ designs are thwarted by the Fulani herder Samba, the valiant hero who, after having sorted out a few jealousy issues, finally manages to conquer the tail of the lion that threatens the herd, while the evil hunter is punished by the reunited village, proving that « you don’t sell your own brothers with impunity ». The universal depth of Tilaï‘s characters is replaced by a sentimental romance that starts most prosaically in bed when Samba’s wife asks him to sell a cow to replace the bedspread! The descent into the trivial continues thanks to the recourse to the same genre film codes that guaranteed the success of Diallo’s nine other films: Lionheart is both a soap opera and a romantic historical thriller. The tale is no more than a book of images, as the Walt Disney-style opening and closing of a book at the start and end of the film suggests. All that remains of the culturally anchored values and universal intrigue of Tilaï are but a few consensual good intentions. By attributing it the European Union award, the jury, which no doubt hadn’t read the criteria of this prize meant to celebrate the defence of European values, put the European authorities, who were planning to hand out the prize in full pomp at the major « Culture and Creation, factors of development » symposium in Brussels in early April, decidedly on the spot.
The opening film, Mah Saah-Sah by Daniel Kamwa (Cameroon), also embodies the dream of a lawful state and culminates in a happy end: « You are an honor to your profession », says the hero to the honest police chief who saves him from prison, where he is thrown by two corrupt policemen so a politician can steal his fiancée, Mapon. The opening of the film is placed under the sign of humor, the suitor Nchare being suspected of being a « turtleneck » (uncircumcised) by the women who « spread lies to unveil the truth. » Highly documentary-style scenes on seduction dances are well-served by Nathalie Durand’s finely-shot images, before romance dominates after the ritual in which the families seal the union. These traditional references to Bamoun culture are juxtaposed with resolutely modern elements, the race against time to stop the forced marriage to the politician being so well played out between gangs on motorbikes that the audience applauded the final outcome! An unpretentious, delightful mix that is lively, upbeat and entertaining.
The aims of Mansour Sora Wade’s Fire of Mansaré (Senegal) lie elsewhere: to renew with the power of the narrative of The Price of Forgiveness, which won the director the Golden Tanit award at the JCC in 2002. Cameraman Alberto Iannuzi’s visual effects and Ciryl Morin’s ethereal music aestheticize a screenplay written in collaboration with Boubacar Boris Diop on the relations between religious communities in a Senegal that is 95% Muslim, but which was ruled for twenty years by a Christian president. This latent antagonism evolves towards a vengeful violence fuelled by the pride and chauvinism of a crook, highlighting an ambiguity that is in continuity with the theme of The Price of Forgiveness, yet one cannot help but wonder what more this film adds, other than reminding us what men are made of when you push them to the extreme. The film’s explicit reference to the treatment of news on radio and television could be one answer. But it would seem that what interested Mansour Sora Wade was simply to deal with love in his cultural context: between the ancestors’ pact that, according to the village chief, no one had ever betrayed before, and the impact of dishonestly-earned money, the question is raised of the limits to set today on what money can buy.
The hero of Mansaré is played by Ibrahima Mbaye, who also plays in Léandre-Alain Baker’s Ramata (DRC) and Mama Keïta’s The Absence (Guinea). He brings a tranquil assurance and strong presence to each film, without overdoing his bad-boy roles. Thirty-four years old, he is an actor at the Daniel Sorano Theater in Dakar, and aware of the difficulty of playing these social outcasts with the right distance that is so hard to find in cinema. His empathy with his characters is manifest.
In addition to the quality of the cinematography, the music and the directing, the quality of the acting is no doubt what gives these two films their force. Ramata lives up to the promise of Katoucha’s impressive presence. She plays a mature woman torn by the desire she discovers after a chance meeting with the young Ngor (Ibrahima Mbaye). Here, at last, is a film in which silence is golden! So much so that when the threads of the story that connect the characters more than we imagined are unveiled in a setting of local bars, we end up regretting this over-explication. Overlooked in the awards list, Ramata enchants by the cunning beauty of its images; cunning because never showy, dictating what we should think, and because they always have the evocative richness of a poetry that steer us away from the predictable. So, what to make of this contemplative tale of a fifty-something woman, whom a young man initiates into love and with whom she shares far more than she thinks, awaiting him to the point of madness?
The evanescence of the superb Katoucha makes Ramata the icon of an ageing woman, but also a goddess; in the image of the heavy necklace she wears, a Nefertiti of legendary beauty and considerable power. This distance is necessary to escape the route set out for all African films: realism. Léandre-Alain Baker breaks away from the sociological demand that postulates that all African films should reveal the state of the continent to the rest of the world. To challenge this expectation is to acquire the freedom to take the spectator onto a different terrain, that of mediation rather than reflection, an introspection in which everyone can recognize his/her fissures. And this in order to clarify one’s being in the world, to find a place that valorizes incertitude not as a failing, but as a mark of identity. It is in this that this film set in Africa addresses the rest of the world. Ramata bears the suffering of a curse. Her beauty is the source of her problems. It drivers her to kill, it condemns her to seduce, then to await the loved one who will abandon her… It incarnates an Africa that is too beautiful not to suffer.(12)
Ambivalence is also at the heart of The Absence, which won the Best Screenplay award and received a special mention from the African Critics’ jury. Of an impressive maturity, the film resumes and develops an approach that Mama Keïta has constructed from film to film, and in this respect represents a fruition of his desire to express content through form. Adama (William Nadylam) urgently returns to Dakar after a fifteen-year absence when he receives a telegram announcing that his mother is seriously ill. But his mother is absolutely fine. It is his deaf-and-dumb sister, Aïcha, who is calling for help, but he spurns her. That’s all it takes to establish a tension that remains with us for the rest of the film, increasingly underpinned by the dexterity of the handheld camera, the sharpness of the cuts and a mise-en-scene that favors the mobility of the characters. The screenplay advances in enigmas, condensed into the short space of 48 hours, in a shady and violent Dakar. Like Ramata, Adama is haunted by his demons, finds himself a victim, and struggles to apprehend the real. He who thought he had found himself in deserting the country has to undergo a series of shocks to understand that Aïcha, who stayed behind, is as much caught in a trap as his friend’s pigeons. His moral rejection is ill-adapted, and leaves him unable to handle the roughness of urban Africa. By the time he understands this, it is too late for Aïcha, the tragic destiny of an Africa completely depleted by the brain drain, dying inaudibly on the streets of the Dakar night.
No prizes for guessing that, to my mind, Ramata and The Absence were the most promising two sub-Saharan films in the competition in terms of cinema. That’s not many and confirms the difficulty for an auteur cinema to survive, a theme already largely developed after the professional forums at Cannes (13). The Africiné bulletin evoked the film funders’ various press conferences « at the patient’s sickbed »(14). Ideas are not lacking, there are more and more initiatives, funding is mobilized, and the stake remains that the griots of Sacred Places can continue to make their voices heard. But the voices are grave and the concern is quite simply to maintain quality cinema in Africa. As a privileged site of visibility, but also one of confrontation, the Fespaco is essential to these griots, on the condition that it can and knows how to defend them. Its future, and correlatively, to a certain extent their future too, depends on its autonomy.

(1) For a review of the film, see [ici]
(2) For a review of the film, see article [ici].
(3) This article covers only the fiction feature competition. The documentary competition and various other films are covered in other articles on www.africultures.com.
(4) For a review of the film, see [ici]
(5) For a review of the film, see [ici]
(6) For a review of the film, see [ici]
(7) For a review of the film, see [ici].
(8) For a review of the film, see [ici], and interview with the director [ici]
(9) All articles can be found in the Fespaco 2009 special report on www.africine.org.
(10) For a review of the film, see [ici], and interview with the director [ici]
(11) The Lionheart budget comprised funding from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Burkinabe Ministry of Culture, the International Organization of Francophonia, and Canal+ television.
(12) See interview with the director, [ici]
(13) See article [ici]
(14) See article [ici]
///Article N° : 10038

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