« Saved by the bell! » The awards ceremony came in extremis to save this bland 13th edition of the FESPACO. An awards list that consecrated true cinema made up for the overall weakness of the selection, the fact that only 7 of the old 15 movie theaters now remain open, frequented predominantly by white faces, a festive mood limited to the crafts fairs alone, the absence of a central meeting place for festival goers, and the Burkinabè public’s general desertion. What follows is a critical look at the festival and its feature film competition: the role of the critic is to criticize, in the hope of helping things improve and out of a profound solidarity with a festival whose role has historically been to provide the best showcase possible for African film
In awarding Alain Gomis’ Today (Tey) the Golden Stallion, and Djamila Sahraoui’s Yema the Silver, the Feature Film Jury presided by Euzhan Palcy displayed lucidity and courage: these were the most original cinematic propositions in the competition. Alain Gomis’ beautiful film (1) surprises and destabilizes spectators used to more conventional narratives, inviting them to embark on a reflection on a today in a world aware of its possible demise. As for Djamila Sahraoui’s film, it plays magnificently on minimalism and simplicity to tackle the pain of Algerian History and the conditions of reconciliation (11403).
Of note too was Newton Aduaka’s One Man’s Show (11278), another intensely original proposition, which won the African Critic’s Paulin Soumanou Vieyra Award. (2)
Although this was a top quality awards list, it was nonetheless truncated: just like at every edition, and despite pressure from the profession, the jury was unable to judge a series of films in competition due to the regulation stipulating that films must be screened in 35 mm. The pointlessness of this at a time when digital is being imposed everywhere both for shooting and screening sparked numerous protests and a petition on the part of the filmmakers. In the light of these attacks, at the end of the festival, FESPACO Director General Michel Ouedraogo announced the end of this clause. In 2011, he had already told us that he was waiting for the FEPACI (Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers) to take a decision on the matter, as it was the FEPACI that historically introduced this rule – while at the same time recognizing the FEPACI’s present incapacity to take any such decision (10007). With the exception of Moussa Touré’s The Pirogue, which won the Bronze Stallion (11078), in 2013, most of the other films that had to be « blown up » to 35 mm just for the FESPACO were kinescoped more cheaply in Morocco, and in the process lost some of their luminosity. The FESPACO’s still underfunded technical team hadn’t changed the projector lamps before the festival, which didn’t help improve luminosity either, to the extent that the light and colors of a number of films were totally washed-out on the screen.
Unless the digital films are reserved in the future for the new movie theater being built near to the festival headquarters, Michel Ouedraogo’s announcement means that the next FESPACO’s budget will need to include equipping Ouaga’s cinemas with digital, plus the services of a competent operator. That would have the advantage of overcoming certain technical failings, such, for example, as the right third of the Neerwaya’s screen being out-of-focus for a number of screenings, or the fact that the projectionist did not always remove the leader tape when assembling the reels to screen the features, thereby interrupting the films for several seconds It wouldn’t, however, put pay to the Neerwaya’s holiday camp type MC prattling inanely into the microphone while the projector stopped you from reading the film credits, in any case more often than not switched off by the projectionist, who considered the film over. Nor, undoubtedly letting the audience in through the side entrances not equipped with double doors, thereby flooding the screen with light every time someone entered or exited. These « small » details, and many more, add to the general impression the the festival’s prime concern is not cinema. That the programs and posters never indicated the films’ original language or subtitles was the final blow, discouraging audiences who regularly found themselves watching films they didn’t understand. The regulations argument (stipulating that films are meant to come subtitled) does nothing to help the lassitude of the local audience which is gradually beginning to feel that the festival no longer concerns them.
That is precisely where the problem lies: one of the FESPACO’s main attractions is its popular dimension. The red carpet at the entrance to the Ciné Burkina would only make sense if the public and photographers flocked around it, like at Cannes . But today, Ouaga’s population only comes out in force for Burkinabè films. The free open-air screenings are a thing of the past, and going to the FESPACO now means going to buy a kebab and a beer in the throng around the food stands at the Maison du Peuple or the FESPACO headquarters. Or going out with the family to the « crafts fair » that attracted artisans and traders from the entire sub-region, yet whose 300 FCFA entrance fee put off a lot of disappointed visitors this year, especially when the other sites were free, including the stalls around the headquarters. The traders’ heated protests led to the suppression of ticket controls two days before the end of the festival, but the damage was already done: their takings were down.
Cannes is a good example: this most prestigious of festivals manages to combine the demand for quality cinema and the appeal of its magic. It’s a matter of communications; journalists are pampered there, and in turn magnify its aura throughout the world. The FESPACO enjoys a considerable reputation and, in the run-up to the festival, garners a lot of media coverage. But this asset is squandered by its organizational approximations and its wariness of the general public, whom it fears may be uncontainable. The general public would feel more involved if the films in competition were also screened free, outside, on the Place de la Nation, as they were in the past, and presented by the filmmakers themselves. For this public is gradually loosing interest in the cinema, and the FESPACO is not the only one to blame: just like elsewhere in the world, the multiplication of screens is fragmenting a collective vision. Events alone have the capacity to restore culture, as long as people don’t feel excluded from them.
In this respect, the FESPACO is sawing off the branch it’s sitting on: the combination of a federating African film festival and popular festivities that mobilize the whole city. The recurrent organizational problems don’t help matters, even if they were less significant this year. The poor quality of the catalog and its omissions topped it off for professionals. The festival’s likeability is being eroded from edition to edition, due to its adhering to radical choices that undermine the very things that made the FESPACO legendary: high ticket and pass prices (1000 FCFA and 25 000 FCFA – 50 $ – respectively), the discontinuation of the neighborhood screenings, nationalism to the detriment of pan-Africanism (the Fespaco News bulletin running article after article on Burkinabè cinema, to the extent that the 3rd edition headlined « Prime Minister Attends Opening Night Screening »).
Even though the festival contributes majorly to Burkina Faso’s cultural diplomacy, in an ensemble that reassures the many NGOs and cooperation programs, it risks having the rug it is sat on pulled from under it by another capital willing to promote film: the festival’s foreign public would desert it at the drop of a hat. Ouaga is no longer as attractive as it used to be, marred by nighttime assaults near the cinemas: reports circulated of owners being violently thrown to the ground as their bags were snatched. It will be disastrous if the current study being carried out by an international auditing firm makes the same conclusions as it did for the Marrakesh festival: advocating this model would be barking up the wrong tree and the FESPACO myth would not survive being blinged up.
The 2013 edition was of course marked by fears about the war in Mali: it was said and said again that the public preferred not to go out and that certain foreign visitors had decided not to come. The (apparently somewhat precipitated) destruction of a passenger’s suspect baggage at Ouagadougou airport on 3 February, heightened fears. (3) The security measures might have reduced the scale of FESPACO 2013, but, according to Fespaco News, 4000 passes were nonetheless attributed at the start of the festival. Singer Greg, Burkina’s new heartthrob, and the feverish rhythms of the Nigerian star Flavour did not fill the 4 Août Stadium for an inauguration that in past years was epic for its stampeding crowds. But Seydou Boro’s choreography Wakatt (Time), the giant Boromo puppets from Niger, and the staging of hundreds of children was nonetheless watched by a large audience, traditionally drawn by the fireworks finale.
As far as we were concerned, despite having applied for our accreditation badges, our twenty or so journalists from fourteen different countries, sent by their national associations to participate in the sixth edition of the Critics Training Workshop jointly organized by Africultures and the African Federation of Film Critics (FACC), still had not received their badges on the first day of the workshop. Yet each of these journalists represented a specific media organ. The FESPACO conceded to grant a dozen badges giving them access to the movie theaters, and we had to purchase the rest, even though this workshop is traditionally a partnership. This didn’t stop the workshop from being a wonderful and intensely productive moment. Each group of four journalists plus an instructor had a schedule of specific screenings, and the mission to analyze the films together and jointly write a review for the three Africiné Bulletins. Three thousand copies of the Bulletin were published during the festival and freely distributed to the festival-goers. (4) Daily editorial meetings and theoretical discussions kicked off each very full day.
The African Critics Jury presided by Baba Diop, President of the FACC, met with the same hiccups: institutionalized for the first time by the FESPACO after having been previously attributed by the Critics Workshop, its members found themselves, along with the other juries, housed at Ouaga 2000, 45 minutes from the town center, but with no transportation to get them to the cinemas and no travel fares. Not warned in time, they weren’t able to present their prize at the Special Awards Press Conference. Sponsored by RFI after an obscure agreement decided by the FESPACO management without concerting the FACC board, their award was announced right at the end of the Special Awards ceremony, after the Nescafe and Burkinabè National Lottery Awards, and as people were already leaving. The attempt to introduce a Fipresci International Critics Award in 2011 aborted when the jury members realized at the airport that their flight tickets hadn’t been issued. Before the Fipresci’s reticence to repeat the experience, but anxious to buff up the festival’s « cinema » credentials, the FESPACO institutionalized this African Critics Award, but made it a Special Award endowed by RFI (who had previously sponsored the very different Audience Award), whereas the Fipresci Award, that had no prize money attached to it, was to have been part of the official awards.
This episode is not anecdotal: critics and criticism were thus reduced to their African dimension alone, and that is precisely the problem of a festival that is still not considered a major international festival by professionals. (5)
To combat the marginalization of African cinema in the world, it is important, however, that the FESPACO meets the requisite quality levels to provide an impeccable showcase and to attract an international professional network that goes beyond the close-knit circles of African film backers. The MICA (film market) was meant to have been held in the new building at the headquarters, but a fire during the works set back delivery. The settlement of the 2009 Hotel Azalaï bill meant it was possible to host it there, but as the hotel’s implication remained limited, at the last minute all the press conferences had to be relocated to the smaller Liptako Gurma press. An essential opportunity for the commercialization of African films, and notably its television dramas, the film market will only achieve an international impact if professionals are invited: some painful choices may need to be made in the guest list to enhance this dimension, in a suitable setting.
Without public backing, however, cinema will never become a job-creating industry. Professionals gathered at the « African Cinema and Public Policy in Africa » symposium confirmed this in their solemn declaration (11952). They called on the African States to become proactive. Nothing new under the sun, other than that we can gradually feel a (slight) wind blowing concerning the recognition of Culture as a potential development factor. Burkina, in this respect, is cutting edge, having placed culture in third position in its « Rapid growth and Sustainable Development Strategy 2011-2015 » (SCADD) (6), after agriculture and mining. The Ouagadougou solemn declaration notably called for States to back the Pan-African Cinema and Audiovisual Fund (FPCA), whose Transitory Orientation Committee (COT) met for several days in Ouagadougou to work on establishing the judicial framework necessary for moving on to the crucial stage of looking, as widely as possible, for sources of funding, as was stated in its press release (7). As a member of the COT myself, I am able to testify to the ardor with which this committee has worked for this Fund to see the light of day. The more official backing it gets, the better chance it will have of raising international funds, and notably private funds.
The symposium’s solemn declaration reasserted the FESPACO « as the meeting place and site of celebration of African cinema ». The issue remains boosting the attractiveness of the FESPACO, then, especially when Johannesburg was chosen to host the refounding Pan-African Filmmakers’ Federation Congress in May 2013, in the past held at the FESPACO. The decision to open the competition up to the diaspora, Michel Ouedraogo’s second seismic announcement during his closing speech, reflects this desire, these films only having being present up until now in a poorly visible section. In addition to independent movies, might we expect some major American movies to come: maybe Spike Lee in Ouaga in 2015?
Similarly, the third announcement – the doubling of the competition prize money – also aims to give the Ouagalese selection clout, many festivals demanding a film’s world premiere to guarantee their reputation: competition is stiff and money is the bottom line. Hence we are thus seeing the Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage (JCC) succumbing to the domination of Gulf festivals that brazenly shower the petrodollars.
Who selects the films at the FESPACO? Which art director has the recognized competence and, like in all major festivals, explains his/her choices and editorial line, defends his/her audacity and explains the necessary compromises? It’s often a person from abroad, called on for his/her competence. All international-level festivals have programmers who sniff out the best films and travel the world the year out to unearth original filmic propositions, gems to present in exclusivity to their audiences. Even Cannes does this, as competition is stiff. One does indeed run into Art Director Ardiouma Soma in several festivals, but, for want of necessary means, the FESPACO seems more to wait for films to come to it. The 2013 feature film competition certainly went for a diversity of styles and origins, but went for some questionable choices too. Let’s take the example of Moroccan cinema, which took the lion’s share with three out of twenty films. Michel Ouedraogo insisted that this was a recognition of Morocco’s efforts to fund its cinema, which has enabled the production of some twenty feature films a year. One can only observe that this albeit dynamic production remains artistically limited. Notwithstanding, the following films did stand out from the rest: Leïla Kilani’s On The Edge, Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Death For Sale, Brahim Fritah’s Chroniques d’une cour de récré, Hicham Lasri’s The End, My Brother by Kamal El Mahouti, or Noureddine Lakhmari’s Zero (which totaled 250,000 entries in Morocco); not forgetting the documentary Dance of Outlaws, by Mohamed El Aboudi. Most of these films share the « shortcoming » of being international co-productions and of not having gone through the Moroccan advance on earnings funding system. Is that why they were not at the FESPACO? Yet it’s often out of the demandingness of co-productions that screenplay writing improves, a major stumbling block of a lot of African films. The Best Screenplay Award was indeed attributed to Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God, a Franco-Belgian-Moroccan co-production, whose ambiguities we already pointed out in our report on Cannes (10798). Just like that other predominantly European co-production, Moussa Touré’s The Pirogue (11078), which won the Bronze Stallion Award, Ayouch’s film is a machine designed to demonstrate and meet the audience’s expectations.
Having to accommodate producers who are attentive to their market is both enriching and ambiguous: at times, anything likely to displease an international audience is erased from the films, to the detriment of a certain fragility that often constitutes the work’s value, for it is precisely this that retranscribes the uncertainties and doubts that reflect the realities of societies tossed hither and thither by History. Although not subjected to such requisites and influences, the two other Moroccan films in competition shared their quest for effects and their expounding of commonplaces. Love in the Medina, Abdelhai Larki’s third film, takes place in a family-based, sentimental and geographic microcosm. Consumed from a tender age by sensuality and desire despite the precepts of his father, a Qur’anic scholar, the young butcher Thami seduces, among others, the beautiful, married Zineb. This passion/love out to discover pleasure verges more on erotic obsession than it focuses on relations, undermining its pertinence for the spectator. Just like the mosaics in the Medina, it becomes a decor for trotting out hackneyed cliches. In Mona Saber (2002), his first feature film, Laraki already bordered on caricature set to a tourist brochure-like backdrop, while at the same time addressing serious issues.
As for Androman, Blood and Coal, by Azlarabe Alaoui, it could be more subtle with its girl character that the father dresses up as a boy. However, its trumpets and songs, its penchant for slow-motion that goes as far, in one abject long shot, as turning the death of M’hoand, who has fallen for her, into a spectacle, its repetitions, the predictability of the screenplay, the overall heavy-handedness of its directing and overly demonstrative acting trap the film in the shell of its intentions. This forced aesthetic recalls the unwieldy Pegasus by the Moroccan Mohamed Mouftakir, which won the Golden Stallion in 2011.
Although it has no coherent cultural policy to back cinema, Algeria also had three films in competition. Both Merzak Allouache’s The Repentant and Djamila Sahraoui’s Yema honored this selection.
The polished and consensual nature of Saïd Oulf-Khelifa’s Zabana!, on the other hand, took us back to the time when politically correct Algerian cinema obligatorily celebrated the martyrs of the liberation struggle. We thus follow the highly theatricalized exemplary path of the first martyr guillotined by the French. The use of chiaroscuro in the prison sanctifies the character, the music is edifying, while the rhythm and the mise-en-scène deaden a flat reconstitution giving off no emotion. The relation between the MNA and the FLN are barely touched on and all that is not within the norms is left aside.
Even among the Burkinabè, the choice of Apolline Traoré’s Moi Zaphira, which it is difficult to fathom what qualifies it as cinema, rather than Pierre Yaméogo’s Bayiri, was staggering. The same goes for the Best Actress Award attributed to Mariam Ouedraogo, who vacillates between hesitancy and hysteria. Was it because Burkina absolutely had to be awarded a prize? This highly verbose story of a village woman who pushes her daughter Katia so hard to become a model that she ends up reproaching her mother for forcing her, is bathed in a flat black and white which, in the obligatory kinescopage from video to 35 mm dwindles into a play of ocher-tinted grays that wipe out the background and flatten the image. The only find that awakened the audience was a sleepwalker on a bike who obeys orders and enables the heroine to get about! As for the village, it is condescendingly caricatured as preferring hand-outs to working in the fields. Already in 2005, Apolline Traoré had featured in competition with the depressing Sous la Clarté de la Lune
Without overdoing the comparison, as these two works have their qualities, the technical and screenplay weaknesses mark two films that take place behind closed doors. It requires real mastery to surpass the constraints of a horizonless unity of place, such as the prison in Toiles d’araignées, by Malian Ibrahima Touré, or the detention camp in Virgin Margarida by Mozambican Licinio Azevedo. In both cases, placing the onus on the acting attempts to compensate for the directorial weaknesses. Behind Toiles d’araignées is the beautiful novel by Ibrahima Ly (a brilliant Malian writer, lecturer, and activist, who met an untimely death in February 1989, and whose Noctuelles vivent de larmes remains memorable) and the following introductory words: « A leaf that is not free is a dead leaf ». Mariama, who loves Lamine, unsuccessfully tries to escape a forced marriage and goes from the prison of her family to real prison for daring to oppose her destiny and claim her right, just like the activists fighting the dictatorship. She will have to escape the web in which she is ensnared.
The destiny of this emblematic strong female figure would be moving if the film defended it better. This is the case too with Virgin Margarida, even if it is a quality Mozambican-Anglo-French-Portuguese co-production. Mistakenly rounded up in a raid on prostitutes when the new regime tries to get rid of all traces of colonialism, the virgin Margardia finds herself locked up in a disciplinary camp guarded by army women who take themselves for men. One can imagine what happens next: the day-to-day resistance of the women, who little by little adopt and protect the young virgin whose every action is reproached. Often amusing, the film recalls the revolutionary ideological context and its slogans, and opposes it with a united community that surpasses its contempt and divisions. Energetically filmed, it is not lacking in powerful images, but it remains limited to pure emotion: it is in the way that a film articulates discrepancies that it touches us, when human profundity emerges without being drummed up by overwrought music, acting or the hysteria of the situations. That doesn’t necessarily mean stripping things down to the absolute minimal, but rather creating a distance in which the spectator can construct his/her own interpretation and thereby relate – not sentimentally, but through an intimate relationship – his/her own experience to the film’s narrative and the reality portrayed, even when it is a far cry from his/her own, in the understanding of this singularity.
The desire to represent production from Portuguese-speaking Africa meant that there were two Angolan films in competition. Pocas Pascoal’s first feature, Por aqui tudo bem (All Is Well), which won the European Union Prize, is an engaging film about two young women who, ahead of their mother, emigrate to Lisbon to escape the civil war, and find themselves cut off there and penniless. Their condition and the fragility of their moral and cultural rooting is the subject of a sincere film that avoids all effects to focus on their different ways of entering into adulthood, faced with boys, exploitation and racism as they try to survive. The familiarity of the mise-en-scène, which alternatively adopts each woman’s point of view, enables them to share their fears, deceptions, and hopes in the complexity of their relationship. The film struggles, however, to establish a stronger connection, notably to the civil war taking place off-screen, but nonetheless achieves a fine human dimension.
As for confirmed filmmaker Zézé Gamboa (The Hero, 2004), he adopts a quirky approach to the end of Portuguese colonization in Luanda in his film The Great Kilapy. What is the right distance to evoke this? Farce, replies Gamboa. We thus find ourselves embarked in a burlesque biopic about a professional swindler, a « kilapy » in the local language, whose main preoccupations are money and (white) women. The film indicates that the character really existed and that this is a loose adaptation of the life of this king conman, who pulled off being a successful Black man in carefree White Angola by frequenting the upper classes in a particularly hostile context, thumbing his nose at the secret police breathing down his neck. It’s an engaging evocation, Gamboa choosing as his hero a character who is at the same time fascinating and exasperating, far from the charismatic or emblematic figures of the anti-colonial struggle that his friends take part in, and of which he determinedly stays out.
The film cultivates elegance to the lascivious rhythm of Seventies Angolan music and turns its kilapy’s impertinent humor into a weapon against convention. His swindles targeting the establishment get him thrown in prison, the crook thus becoming subversive, a liberation struggle hero! Gamboa mischievously articulates a vision of the independence heroes that is as mocking as it is bitter. We follow the intrigues with pleasure, and the celebrated transgressions reveal the extent to which the contradictions of the colony already bore the seeds of decolonization and, more widely, how all dictatorial systems intrinsically bear the very seeds of what will bring them down.
This very human immersion into the imagination that characterizes Portuguese-language literature is also found in Flora Gomes’ much-anticipated new film The Children’s Republic (Guinea Bissau). In a world at war, where cruelty has reached its zenith, kids roam under the command of child solders. One group breaks away after a fight sees power change hands and heads to the city. Looking for his glasses fallen under the table when the palace comes under attack, the President’s adviser (the ever-remarkable Dany Glover), finds himself alone and joins the children to eventually reach a city where only children live, and where they recreate their own society. Everyone tries to surpass his/her demons to little by little embark on the path to adulthood. From the glasses that make it possible to see the future to the requisite redemptions and reconciliations, Flora Gomes evokes the hope for a better society that the children might build, on the condition that their Republic reaches maturity. Notably, through the character of Dubem, played by Glover, Gomes insists on the importance of an enlightened guide, an adult. The fable is luminous, certain shots magnificent, the unfolding of the plot always surprising. Yet a distance sets in due to the choice to shoot in English and to the superficiality of the screenplay, which could have given more rhythm and fluidity, as was achieved, for example, in Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film that also plays on the fantastical and in which childhood imagination confronts, without denying it, the adult world faced with the threats of the century.
Not much older are the young students of The Children of Troumaron, a beautiful film by Harrikrisna Anenden and his son Sharvan (Mauritius), based on the novel Eve de ses décombres by his famous wife Ananda Devi, just as The Cathedral was also already based on the eponymous novel. A second feature film, it erroneously received the Oumarou Ganda First Film Award but deserved a prize! Like in Angola, the youth are adrift. Focusing on the character Eve, on the origins therefore, the film is a dark tale of self-destruction. (11404)
From Tunisia, the FESPACO chose not to select Carthage’s discoveries – Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s Le Professeur, or Hidden Beauties, the latest Nouri Bouzid film – but rather Always Brando, by Ridha Behi, an attempt at an encounter between the Arab world and America, beyond the humiliating cliches that burden the relationship, like Nabil Ayouch achieved in Whatever Lola Wants, or Youssef Chahine in his autobiographical Alexandria-New York. Fascinated by Marlon Brando, as both an actor and defender of minority rights, Behi travels to Beverly Hills to ask him to play in this film. Brando accepts, but is on the eve of death. Behi then spends years making a film without him, about an American film shoot in Tunisia, which features a young Brando look-alike who, at the outset, has no faith in his talent, but grows more confident and starts dreaming of America. The compromises he makes to get there are wrenching. The strength of the film lies in taking the spectator as witness: the personal tone of the voice-over explaining the genesis of the film, the documentary take on the film profession, and the play on parallels between Brando’s films and the film being made about a film being made
This creates a considerable distancing and one gets a little lost in the narrative thread of this intimist fugue; it would have worked, however, if one wasn’t revolted by its use of a cliche to denounce a cliche: the young actor has to prostitute himself with a homosexual actor to hope to get invited to America, now the sole site of his dreams. The encounter only becomes possible by renouncing the self, but on a level of the worst cliche, as if homosexuality summed up the immoral drift of the West. Out of a fine project of encounters, Ridha Behi ultimately makes a homophobic film.
Morality: film criticism does not consist of examining a film in the light of one’s own criteria, but of questioning the impact of its subject’s affirmations and presuppositions. Rather, for example, than selecting Oliver Hermanus’ remarkable and troubling Beauty, the FESPACO selected How to Steal Two Million from South Africa, produced by Jeremy Nathan’s dynamic production company DV8, the first feature directed by Charlie Vundla, a young filmmaker aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino. He films Jack, who aspires to lead an honest life on release from prison. When a corrupt policeman robs him of the little money he has and his past catches up with him, Jack is forced to turn to crime again, to tragic ends, without the film really calling this obligation into question. Vundla makes a thriller, without transgressing the genre, which limits its impact. He focuses on the hero’s tragic sacrifice to give this tale a moral, in which the child of Olive – a thief that Jack coaches out of an unconfessed love – will finally be the main character, the only one who incarnates future hope. The film is bleak, unfolding in a closed microcosm. It plays on the oppositions between shadows and light in undetermined settings and concentrates on the self-destruction of a man caught in his own trap. Everyone manipulates everyone else and trust is impossible: Vundla paints a sombre portrait of a violent society whose perenniality will only come from personal redemption.
The only television-like film in the 2013 competition, Nishan by the Ethiopian Shumet Yidnekachew, plays on the real and fake to weave a dynamic tale with multiple messages. An old revolver won playing poker turns out to be a gift that Haile Selassie gave his Commander-in-Chief of the armies for having successfully fought off the Italians. It is coveted by crooks who want to sell it, but who always fall on a copy. Nishan, a strong-willed woman whose father won the revolver in a poker game, and who before emigrating must buy back the mortgage that threatens her family’s home, finds herself caught up in a political thriller which we follow with baited breath until the final happy end. When she meets the old Commander-in-Chief, he evokes Ethiopia’s past glory, relating it to a sense of honor. Between emigration, which is not problematized, and such conservative references, the film, in which filiation plays a major role, is not without its ambiguities!
Offering a retrospective of Gabonese cinema this year, the FESPACO selected Henri-Joseph Kumba Bididi’s amiable, family-fun The King’s Necklace in competition (10340), also an efficient Franco-Gabonese co-production.
The 2013 selection thus gave food for thought about the status of films, between co-productions whose content is adapted to the international market, and often imperfect local productions. Clearly, in its desire to exclude no one, the FESPACO is wavering between the two and navigating between recent productions that haven’t received too much exposure in other festivals and the must-see films produced in the two years since the last edition. If the festival’s ambition is to celebrate the best works, it doesn’t need to include all the most recently produced films in competition. If their quality is problematic, they can be shown in a panorama section. It would be good to free itself from these different pressures. The ending of the obligatory 35 mm clause and including the diaspora in the competition will open the path to a better selection. It is in this demandingness that the FESPACO will be able to survive the various threats undermining it.
1. See our review of the film on www.africultures.com, article 11069. Throughout the rest of the article, all numbers in parenthesis refer to reviews, articles or interviews published on the Africultures website.
2. This jury also awarded a special mention to Djamila Sahroui’s Yema and Harrikrisna & Sharvan Anenden’s The Children of Troumaron.
3. cf. http://www.lefaso.net/spip.php?article52618
4. See the articles in the three Africiné bulletins published on www.africine.org
5. Cf. http://www.fiapf.org/pdf/guidefiapfFinal.pdf. The FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producer Associations) lists 51 festivals for their quality, enabling producers to find their way in the mass of festivals and choose which to send their films to.
6. Cf. www.pnud.bf/DOCS/Scadd_vfinal.pdf
7. Cf. http://www.spla.pro/fiche.php?type=murmures&no=11962&lg=fr///Article N° : 11483