FESPACO, a day-by-day account

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We had planned to publish a series of Fespaco film reviews reflecting a range of voices (African, African-American, and European), but the unreliability of computing one can imagine in Africa upset the balance and made things impossible in time for our deadline. Readers will thus find a highly personal and subjective account of the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film and Television festival below, but one that reflects only a single voice… The account is followed by detailed thematic articles by Jean-Servais Bakyono.


Saturday 24 February – Kick-off
People started making their way to the 4 Août Stadium right after noon. 35 000 people, a cram-packed stadium, all come to see the opening show and headliner Youssou N’dour. The entrance was free. We pushed and shoved to get in, and many had to listen from outside.
The 1999 error – when Alpha Blondy’s concert was interrupted by president Blaise Compaoré’s arrival (everything stops and everyone stands up…) – was not repeated. The impertinent Alpha, backed by the whole stadium at the height of the Zongo affair, then carried on his tirade against corrupt presidents, upsetting the protocol and the organization! This year the president didn’t show up at all and Youssou brought the festivities to a close in as much time as he wanted. But he didn’t set the Burkinabè stadium alight in the same way as a Meiway or a Blondy, his Wolof mbalax seeming distant from the local cultures.
Given the Fespaco’s theme, 70 dancers choreographed a symbolic representation of the new communication technologies’bringing people together. Its acme came when they all started speaking on their cellular phones, the height of progress, omnipresent in ads all over Ouaga, which everyone dreams of without knowing how to pay its exorbitant bills… One private cellular phone brand has pulled out all the stops in promoting and sponsoring the Fespaco. You can’t miss its white and blue balloons every few yards down the street and on the telly.
Who says technology says techno and as the night fell, multi-coloured laser beams zigzagged all round the dumbstruck stadium, drawing forms on cloth backdrops representing Burkina, cinema, and the Etalon de Yennenga (the top Fespaco award), not forgetting the sponsors, of course. Well coordinated, with a perfectly orchestrated, magnificent firework display going off in all directions, the show was optimal and the crowds delighted.
Just the time to hop on my « motor » and there I was at the municipal stadium where, with the obligatory pass and search at the entrance, the 17th Fespaco’s inaugural screening was held. The film chosen was Les Couilles de l’éléphant, by Henri-Joseph Kumba Bididi, which, after Imunga Ivanga’s Dôlè, is the second feature film to have been produced in Gabon after a 22-year absence.
Consternation amongst the film-buffs, peals of laughter from the audience, the inaugural film appears to have been chosen for its popular appeal. The humour is coarse, at times bawdy, but it is effective in any case. The images are slick and the rhythm up beat. The result is a comedy of manners with multiple coups de theatre. The plot revolves around tales of « second offices » and corruption in the world of election candidates. The « all as bad as each other » message – which isn’t really redeemed by a happy end, the moral not triumphing – brings to mind Jean-Pierre Mocky’s films and their denunciatory derision which makes no concessions to the powers that be. But we need to resituate the film in the land of Omar Bongo where politics are taboo. We can appreciate that only comedy could sweeten the pill and that it was impossible to broach the whole « Francafrique » aspect that is lacking in the film. But was this an excuse to slip into light comedy? Caricature rarely proves much.
Cf. www.africultures.com French pages for an interview with the director.
Sunday- Word has it…
Word has it that forty or so filmmakers are still stuck in Paris because there weren’t enough planes. Word has it that it the allocation of hotel rooms was chaos again. Word has it that films haven’t arrived, just like the filmmakers. People say a lot of things in the little world of the festival. With one burning question: when will they at last run the festival without clocking up the delays, the dysfunctions, the transmission errors, the lack of information? When all is said and done, people complain a lot, as always, but once you have found your bearings, the Fespaco doesn’t work so badly after all. It’s a question of getting used to things.
People are turning their noses up at a film, ignoring its success, claiming that it wasn’t like that, that it shouldn’t have been done that way, that it is too aesthetic, that it’s naively sentimental, that the theme is poorly dealt with. It’s so irritating: today’s film, Adangganman, is a great film. The Ivoirian Roger Gnoan Mbala, director of Ablakon and Au nom du Christ, is back attacking the tabooed subject of Africa’s participation in the slave trade. Should he be reproached for having taken the Amazonians to be ruthless warriors, for having accompanied History with a romance, for having slapped on Lokua Kanza’s music, for never having shown a White person? Why can’t we respect filmmakers’choices before saying what they should have done?
The quality of the film’s cinematography – the work of the black Algerian cameraman Mohamed Soudani – stands out above all. His fluid camera work, which captures the bodies in tight, but completely respectful close-ups, serves the subject magnificently. It manages to use the landscapes without them ever becoming decorative. It makes the story vibrate and resonate.
History with a capital H, the slave trade era, its duration over four centuries, the terrible mutilation it represented for Africa, emerge from this exceptional story via the questions asked and the old wise man character, Sory. « When will we be free of our past? » asks Mbala. Although it risks a passing romance, the film doesn’t opt for a happy ending: « you are a slave, and you will remain one ». And the tragic destiny of the main characters scrolls up against the full-frame shot of the sea.
Cf. the French pages of www.africultures.com for an interview with the director.
The Fespaco specially screened Mamadou Djim Kola’s Les Etrangers, a 1992 Burkinabè film about intolerance towards foreigners. It was a way of recalling that African cinema is full of magnificent films. It was a way, above all, of evoking Ivoirian current affairs, which worry many here given the large number of Burkinabè emigrants in Côte d’Ivoire. The film is powerful, poignant, showing the mechanisms which slot into place when the authorities legitimate the rise in intolerance and disregard all dignity. It provides contemporary echo of the self-destructive exactions of the past.
MondayThe future stems from the past
The Burkinabè don’t only live the Fespaco through the movie theatres. The unique Burkinabè television station focus on the event all day long, broadcasting reports and special programmes. Each night it offers what the French television film clubs have always overlooked: films from the African cinema repertoire. Tonight, the TNB thus broadcast the rarely-seen Petanqui by the Ivoirian Yeo Kolozalo (1983). The great Douta Seck proves all his worth in the film and is remarkably accompanied by Sidiki Bakaba.
Filmmakers have been repeating for years that Africa has a whole store of magical stories and that this is the way for this cinema to make its international break. But the lack of funding has always limited productions, as they require lots of extras, costumes, and technical means. In 1994, a young Burkinabè’s audacity took everyone by surprise. He adapted Sunjata – the great Mandingo legend which many directors had dreamed of making – with derisory funding but with the great idea of telling the story through the eyes of a child, thereby resolving all the financial problems. Keïta, l’héritage du griot was well made and was a success, and was shown all around the world.
This year, Dani Kouyaté is back with another perfectly handled legend: Sia, le rêve du python. A fable on the power struggles that bathe Africa in blood, this adaptation of the play by the Mauritanian Moussa Diagana, which is inspired by the legend of Wagadu, is passionate from beginning to end. The successfully kept-up suspense, the remarkable work on the costumes and settings, the tension maintained through a tight montage and the numerous intrigues make Sia an all-round performance. Sotigui Koyaté, Habib Dembélé and Hamadoun Kassogué play their roles with a rare brio, so much so that the audience, which vibrates in unison, is totally gripped by the story.
The only reserve is that the slightly too well oiled machine leaves you yearning for the life which emanated from Keïta‘s improvisations. Some people reproach him for the alternation between the dialogues and music, which gives a somewhat jerky film style. But isn’t it the sacredness of the Word so often found in Africa’s cinemas that produces this effect?
« They’re mad at my tongue but they smash my nose », cries the madman Kerfa (Hamadoun Kassogué). The space given to madness in the film recalls the importance of mad characters in African literature. The madman is both wise and subversive. He represents difference, the grain of sand in the machine of power and the traditions. He provokes and incites change. « Not anyone can be mad, » he says to the king when the latter tries to capture his wisdom at the end of a confrontation that will remain a classic in the history of African cinemas.
It is this madman, protected by his madness, who challenges everything: the powers in the film, the power of myths in understanding the world. For Sia also challenges the epic tales handed down by the griot, the epic characters whose totalitarian and bloody excesses are often blown out of proportion under the pretext that they flatter nationalist sentiment. Napoleon…The film’s unveiling of the instruments of power and its resultant relativity represent a highly modern relation to power in which the stake becomes not a radical dignity of representation but one’s own dignity, one’s own madness in refusing to perpetrate the lie on which exploitation is founded.
Ousmane Sembene, for his part, hangs large portraits of Africa’s great mythical figures on the walls of his main character’s house in Faat Kiné. We can spot Nkrumah, Lumumba, and Mandela… His film is a pure Sembene: unbridled determination, an image at the service of the dialogue, a heightened sense of phrases which hit so well home that the audience applauds, denunciation of injustice (here, the condition of women), and the avenues of revival (« Africa of the past will never return » said Sembene in his introduction at the Ciné Burkina where people who couldn’t find seats were sat in the aisles). The audience was won over. His brief (Hitchcockian) appearance in the film also sparked the audience’s ample applause.
All this is highly theatrical, both in terms of the accentuated dialogues and the framing, so much so that Faat Kiné’s – a mother with a weighty past who her children try to remarry – repeated affirmations become caricatural and sententious. This remains a cinema that points the finger and dots the ‘i’s, a « night school ». By hereby depicting an emblematic woman, Sembene makes his personal contribution to women’s speaking out and emancipation, even if it means turning them into warrior women. In short, this is a highly masculine vision.
Cf. www.africultures.com French pages for a transcription of Sembene’s press conference in which he discusses his film.
Tuesday-Regression
The Fespaco is in full swing. « L’Indé » (Hotel Indépendence) resonates with bursts of laughter and reunions from the good old days. The little « African film » world enjoys its biennial mass in the company of its « groupies » and financiers. A whole host of journalists accompanies the events: daily radio shows, photos, interviews, the never-ending films on the (problematic) state of African film, this cinema’s anthological necessity of proving its existence and constantly redefining itself… François Kotlarski is back again this year after having made Le cinéma africain? two years ago. Balufu Bakupa-Kayinda makes his film too, interviewing directors against a smart mud cloth backdrop… All is rosy in the cheery mood and heat.
The second Burkinabè feature film after Sia, Siraba is made by another of the Sahelis – the Ouagalese production company – trio, namely Issa Traoré de Brahima. A governor has lost his son and thinks that he has been murdered in the village where he was a teacher. The villagers insist that it is the boa he killed who is responsible… A game of revenge begins when a new road is planned, cutting through the village’s sacred grove where their cult tree is situated. With film, you can play unlimitedly with magic, making characters appear and disappear, so that they play hide-and-seek with the actors, to the utmost pleasure of the audience. Hidden forces thereby become absolutely real, and not only animist forces, as a catholic priest starts his 2CV by making a cross sign… The film proposes to get people to take into account the cultural behaviour that resorts to the supernatural. « Africa is not dead. It continues to live in its mysteries, far from us city-dwellers », the film indicates in conclusion.
Two children serve as a narrative thread throughout the film and across its landscape and finally find the lost fetish, just when the village’s exodus is inevitable. It was in order to understand why the villagers abandoned their village that Traoré wrote this film, his first feature after Gombélé, amongst other shorts, which depicted the misadventures of an albino child.
The problem is that the film is an assortment of odds and ends and veiled references directed at the spectator in silent movie type gags (or even the kind of images of black people found in American films…) in which the frightened characters flee or pee in their pants. This type of film seems to be regressing, rather than learning from its elders. Drissa Touré’s Laada, which addressed the same themes, was significantly superior on a thematic, narrative and technical level. The references to supernatural forces are simply a pretext for new intrigues and their meaning for the world completely overlooked. A child initiate thus says to his friend: « if everyone holds the secret, everyone is strong and if everyone is strong, everyone is weak ». Let’s stay weak then until they decide to take us for adults.
Another competition feature film is Soif by the Moroccan Saâd Chraïbi whose Femmes… et femmes we already saw and enjoyed. The film is set at the end of the colonial era. Another glorification of the fight for national liberation against the colonizer? Not at all! Although the nationalist struggle is well and truly present, it improvises and makes mistakes! As for the French lieutenant who commands the little garrison, he is a good chap who wonders what he’s doing there. More still, his photographer wife has intimate relations with Moroccans. The problems arise from this ambiguity, which, more than the struggle itself, constitute the action of the film. This fine film’s real interest of course lies in the way it thereby reworks History through the prism of human relationships. There are no goodies and baddies, but just real-life, contradictory men and women who follow their desires as much as they do their ideals. The independence moment is also astonishing, showing the Moroccan warders and prisoners hugging one another, the new order no longer being about division, but unity.
Without slipping into aestheticism, the images marry the sand and ochre colours with a great gentleness. Whilst undoubtedly a little classic, it demonstrates the love of this land the characters are seeking to free. Several times in the film, a poetic aside comes to illustrate the discussion, in harmony with the importance accorded to poetic expression in Arab culture and in southern Morocco in particular.
On several occasions, the same emotional desire leads to children, old people and society being born and dying at the same time, at the risk of making the script feel over-written. It is nonetheless still a sensitive and significant film that confirms the director’s talent.
Another North African film, Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s Les Siestes grenadines (Tunisia), draws a terrible portrait of a society that constantly hides its real nature. To do so, the director focuses on a divided character: a young woman with a French mother, a Tunisian father, who speaks Arabic, but who comes from Dakar and is mad about African dance. She has the necessary vitality and naivety to challenge attitudes and unveil hypocrisies, starting with racist prejudices and manipulative corruption. Her character has depth, and this isn’t the least quality of this endearing film. It is moving and communicates a little of its life force before these people who spend their time fleeing.
Discovering the Tunis black community’s stambali rituals (which are well and truly alive here, and not just folkloric), she realizes that this elsewhere she is looking for in her divided self is already present, and that despite its unified façade, that this society is plural too. This is where the real interest of this successful film lies. Each character will grow as he/she discovers so and manages to convince us of it too.
The audience gave the Malian Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s Bàttu a magnificent reception with a standing ovation. The African audience’s highly spontaneous reaction with its exclamations, laughter, and applause gives a good indication of the film’s impact and the success of its scenes. This is also the type of deeply moving experience the Fespaco offers when you are more used to the forced religiousness of European movie theatres.
What if the rich needed to give? The Senegalese Aminata Sow Fall’s novel is constructed around this very real question as it depicts the Dakar beggar community – known as the Bàttu after the calabash they hold out for charity. This, just like praying, is a daily obligation for Muslims. The American Joslyn Barnes’adaptation accentuates this question, under the helm of a director who, with this fifth feature film, demonstrates his unswerving determination to address real issues in order to help Africa to advance. For, although the question of course applies to North-South relations (as Sembene already pointed out in Guelwaar), it is just as valuable in Africa. Dakar’s beggars are brutally excluded from the town and packed into a outlying township where the rich continue to go to give them their offerings in order to satisfy the interests and ambitions of corrupt politicians and not to upset tourism. We won’t tell the story, which is rich in suspense and which shows the extent to which the authorities panic when its wealth no longer brings everyone to heel. Through the brutality of the repression scenes, Sissoko insists on its ability to harm. But he also – again in the footsteps of Sembene’s Mandabi and Xala in particular highlights the pride and dignity of the poor. The similarities in cinematography (with its somewhat restrained camera work by the American Geary Mac Leod, which is more in the vein of Clockers than Lethal Weapon) are striking and we are a long way here from the desert expanses of La Genèse. Exceptional actors were needed for these indoor and street scenes. African-American Dany Glover’s first appearance in an African film inaugurates a closer collaboration that has been on the cards for a long time. Is it a blessing for the film? Glover is as good as in Lethal Weapon, managing to move each wrinkle for the needs of his performance, and has the potential to quickly hammer any interlocutor. But Isaach de Bankolé, Makena Diop and Felicité Wouassi rise admirably to the challenge. That was what it took for the audience to be able to hear, « when you give alms, you give them to Allah and Allah decides what he does with them. »
Cf. the French pages of www.africultures.com for an online interview with Cheick Oumar Sissoko.
Wednesday – A passing comet
Halfway through, and the Fespaco doesn’t know which way to turn. The official selection is so heterogeneous that it is hard to distinguish any trends. Commentaries are rife, but no one risks forecasting the possible winners. The movie theatres are full at each screening and this throng proves yet again the extent to which the cinema draws crowds in Africa.
For me, the event of the day was Gahité Fofana’s Immatriculation temporaire (Guinea). The film was like a shooting star in the selection, so great was the difference in the quality of its cinematography compared to the many approximations we often see. The father is called Camara Laye, which is no accident, of course. The clichéd images of Africa are soon destroyed when this young French, mixed-race man turns up in Guinea to meet his father. The difficult meeting takes place after a mysterious wait, which takes on the allure of a form of protection, an initiation into the violence of relationships in situations of poverty. Immatriculation temporaire is thus mainly a viewpoint. The town and its inhabitants are the object of a meeting – that of a silent but determined man and those who host him – a troubled milieu, a kingdom of wheeling and dealing and nightclubs. Fofana (who plays the leading role) thus recreates the ambiance he already evoked in the magnificent Temedy, with a desire to capture the behind-the-scenes, the day-to-day settings and disillusion. Silences and glances speak realms about the expectations and incertitudes, and certain discreet things are only filmed through a curtain. For this gaze deeply respects its subject, and never uses it.
The image hugs the bodies or places, the camera is carried on the shoulder in the movements from place to place, the frame plays on the lines, shadows, silhouettes, and lights to convey the unease experience by this son as he seeks an absent father, an Africa which escapes him. In order to become part of the surrounding environment, he has to accompany John Kra and Sylla on what turns out to be botched-up job. « All cats rummage in bins, but only careless cats fall in, » says the Fulani proverb. And it was bound to turn out for the worst…
Interview with the director on the French pages of www.africultures.com
Camille Mouyéké’s Voyage à Ouaga (Congo-Brazaville) is the very antithesis in comparison. The clichés are omnipresent, even though reworked by a white guy (Eric Lougerias) who comes to Africa to escort a car. « Does anything work here? » All his clichés collapse around him as he undergoes an ordeal by fire when he miraculously finds himself housed by the boxer who beat him up and his wife (Maka Koto and Aïssa Maïga): « Here you get by or you die in a coma of poverty », Zao tells him. The comedy is up beat and dotted with excellent funny bits which delight the audience (such as when he talks about Bobo-Dioulasso!), but suffers from lulls, which seriously lack content. Africa ends up becoming decorative, and it’s a great shame because this Voyage à Ouaga does not achieve its proclaimed objective of being a comedy that reveals a relationship, a kind of anti-Black mic mac set in Africa.
Zimbabwe’s competition entry is a pure Media for Development Trust product, the production company for films financed by the NGOs. It is a carbon copy of More Time (Isaac Meli Mabhiwka, 1992) in which a teenage girl discovers that love can mean playing with your life in the day and age of Aids. Here, in John Riber’s Yellow Card, a young up-and-coming footballer, Tiyane, gets Linda pregnant before going back to Juliet who finds it hard to understand why he hides this from her. A call to teenagers’sense of responsibility, the film aims to be educational and effective. But does it have to look so much like a pop video to manage this? Young people will no doubt like it, us a bit less. But the film has already drawn 5 million spectators in southern Africa!
Thursday – Resignations all round!
The Ivoirian Hanny Tchelley resigned from the West African Economic and Monetary Union jury (which awarded its prize to Dani Kouyaté’s Sia, le rêve du python) following the accusation on Burkina Faso’s national radio on Monday, then carried in the daily paper Sidwaya on Tuesday, that the director (who also runs the Abidjan short film festival, the latest edition of which was called off due to lack of financing) is xenophobic. She stated that « if, during the programme I hosted on the Ivoirian television, my mouth ran away with my thoughts, I sincerely regret so », and affirmed that she is not xenophobic.
The South African Letebele Masemola-Jones, head of production at the private television station M-Net, resigned from the competition’s feature film jury in protest at the dysfunction of the Fespaco organization, which above all affects the filmmakers and their films. There was a perfect illustration of this tonight at the Cinéma Burkina where the Tunisian director Naceur Ktari was at wit’s end. His film, which was cancelled at the beginning of the week on the pretext that it hadn’t arrived, was shown on the sly at the Ciné Burkina before a thinly spread audience come to see… a Sudanese film which hadn’t arrived either. They had to call the police to calm things down. Once on stage, the filmmaker claimed not to want to rekindle the controversy, but insisted that his film Hlou oua morr (Sois mon amie/Be my friend), selected in the official competition, had in fact arrived in Ouaga on 17 February.
The prizes are beginning to fall. The Guilde africaine des réalisateurs et producteurs (African Guild of Directors and Producers) awarded its prize to Moustapha N’Doye’s Sénégal Salsa.
Holding a get-together every day on the fringes of the festival by the Hotel Splendide poolside, the Guilde affirmed its existence and its identity at the very moment that the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (Fepaci) was trying to reconstitute itself through a special congress after having fallen into decline four years ago during the disastrous 1997 congress. This led to the decision to re-form the Fepaci and to set up a collegial management system. The Guilde, which publishes a bulletin, the third issue of which came out for the Fespaco, is structuring itself and proposes to join the Fepaci as an organization…
An article in its bulletin entitled « For the revival of African cinema » proposes a kind of key words manifesto:
identities: against a certain representation of Africa carried over from colonial cinema.
differences: « we are the filmmakers of migration, of nomadism. We do not forget that we are African filmmakers ».
modernities: precursory signs announcing new trends or exploring film language can be detected. Africa’s urgent problems constitute the theme of this vein of new films.
solidarities: TV5, CFI, Canal Horizons buy films at barging prices. We are for a minimum price scale.
In short, it is about refusing periphery culture, and the text ends: « things are moving, we are going to get there, inevitably ».
Fresh from Nigeria, Baba Zak (1999) was produced by the Jos National Film Production, that white elephant which was supposed to be a black Hollywood but which has only produced a handful of films in 40 years. Ladi Lalepo’s film (who is here in force with three films) is typical of recent Nigerian productions. The framing, montage, shot length, transitions, sound track, acting – in short all that is cinema – leave a lot to be desired, but the theme is interesting and directly touches the people whose lives it reflects. Generally comedies of manners or traditional Ibo or Yoruba tales, this cinema, which sells very well on video in social places such as hairdressers’, sometimes plays a social role. This is the case, for example, with this film, which UNICEF uses in Nigeria to address the issue of youngsters being taken out of school to be sold to old men looking for new brides.
The start of the film shows a smutty discussion between a chief and his acolytes who agree that they « need young blood to revive themselves ». Then comes an immediate illustration. Joke’s parents want her to agree to marry Baba Zak who has just lost his wife. But she ends up managing to marry the son, not the father!
Two very different films shot in London depict immigrant reality.
Room to Rent, by Khaled El Hagar (Egypt) focuses on a young Egyptian who writes screenplays and who absolutely needs to get married to obtain a resident’s permit. He is talented, but has difficulty in making a break. However, each time he finds a room to rent, a new adventure unfolds… The film is thus constructed as a succession of encounters. A French mistress (Clémentine Célarié), a gay landlord, a lost Marilyn Monroe, an old lady who takes him to be the reincarnation of her childhood sweetheart… Each one serves as the basis for one of his screenplays and that of the film itself. The film functions as a real experimentation, the needs of the story ultimately supplanting the characters. This way of favouring the form over the content is what is both interesting and problematic in this amusing, well-paced film full of new intrigues. The all-round projections of the characters on one another constitute a reflection on identity which finally makes Ali, the main character, say: « I’ve been trying to run away from myself the whole time I’ve been here ». And it is true that even though we like him, Ali remains a bit shallow, as if he were absorbed by the arcanna of cinema.
Newton I Aduaka’s Rage (Nigeria) comes right from the heart. That was the strength of his prize-winning short film On the Edge of the last Fespaco, and it is what makes this first feature film. Like La Haine, the film portrays three youths – one black, one mixed-race and one white – in today’s London between Hampstead and Peckham. Focusing on the mixed-race character, nicknamed Rage, who is violently torn between his two cultures, the film’s introspective quality distinguishes it from La Haine. « When a man resorts to insults, it’s because he finds it hard to express himself », the old wise Rasta says to the angry young rapper. The whole film works towards this conclusion. Rage is only able to make the CD of his dreams when he starts reading and thinking. In spite of the violence of his revolt, this takes him further than his two friends who, like G, the black guy, constantly wonder what they are going to do with their lives. Aduaka plays a little too often on visual effects bordering on the pop video, combining slow motion and over-done framing. But his film’s humane message, in which everyone can identify his/her own quests for identity, makes a definite impact.
The film also confirms the still perceptible trend in Africa’s cinemas of adopting a moral stance, legitimacy through the message, a recalling of essential values which give the energy to fight back.
Friday- Conclusion
Arrived in-extremis, Issa Serge Coelo’s Daresalam (Chad) was worth the wait! Daresalam means the house of peace, and this war film certainly talks about peace, an intense desire for peace. The rural farmers who rebel against the brutality of the exploitative regime have only that in mind. Revolution thereby emerges as the lesser evil. Two friends, Djimi and Koni, are caught in the spiral of violence. They commit themselves, affront the challenges, believe in ideals, progress, and understand, but their choices end up opposing them. Coelo does not judge either of them at any time. He never falls into being over-simplistic. By tackling the question of commitment head on, he avoids opposing the good revolutionaries and the baddies. For in this wartime context, he is interested in the human, and he excels in reconstituting the cycle of life, everyone’s aspirations, sufferings and loves. He finds the right tone to represent violence, only evoking the bloody repression in little touches and in alternation with Djimi’s flight. The film’s strength is its rhythm, not just because this saga keeps us baited, but also because it reveals – thanks notably to the finely directed acting – the profound rhythm of beings and things. This is clear in the farewell scene between Djimi and his mother, who has just lost her baby: the few gently spoken words pronounced in urgency, the impressively restrained gestures, and the gravity of the situation create a deep emotion that is far too subtle to be sentimental. There is a constant divide between reality and desire, which Koni sums up so well: « There are two worlds. The one we live in and the one we are fighting for ». This tension is not resolved, because « we haven’t had poverty’s hide ». And it is this terrible statement, this acute awareness of African reality that gives the film its force. Its intense beauty comes from the poetry it develops, which is admirably served by the music and Jean-Jacques Mrejen’s beautiful cinematography. This gives the director’s final call to mobilize one’s energy for « things other than mopping up blood » all its resonance.
Burkina’s national television station is showing Moussa Touré’s TGV (Senegal) tonight. But with one snag. The film is in Wolof and the subtitles in English… How can we really believe in these conditions that the national television stations can avoid being squeezed out by the satellite channels as soon as technology gives them a wide enough distribution?
What do films such as Rage (Newton I Aduaka, Nigeria) or Room to Rent (Khaled El Hagar, Egypt) shot in London have in common with films made in Africa? The gulf between Africa and its Diaspora matches the North-South divide and confirms this Fespaco’s dominant trend: the heterogeneity of the selection, the diversity of approaches, the distance taken from the African film « genre ». The desire to reconquer the African public motives a cinema destined for the masses with the onus on comedy, such as Voyage à Ouaga (Camille Mouyéké, Congo. This doesn’t stop it from integrating social or environmental concerns however, for example in Les Couilles de l’éléphant (Henri Joseph Kumba Bididi, Gabon) or Siraba (Issa Traoré de Brahima, Burkina). But films articulating major moral or historic questions are still present, such as Bàttu (Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Mali), and Adangamman (Roger Gnoan Mbala, Côte d’Ivoire), whereas Sia (Dani Kouyaté, Burkina) poses the question of power and Soif (Saâd Chraibi, Morocco) rewrites colonial history. There are still many social intervention films, such as Yellow Card (John Riber) or Baba Zak (Ladi Lalebo, Nigeria), just as there are realist chronicles focusing on children, such as Dôlè (Imunga Ivanga, Gabon, cf. our positive review and interview with the director in Africultures 34) or Ali Zaoua (Nabil Ayouch, Morocco, cf. our unenthusiastic review in Africultures 36). North African cinema (but also sub-Saharan cinema, such as Ousmane Sembene’s Faat Kine) is rife with challenges to virility, depicting men who flee their responsibilities in Siestes grenadines (Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Tunisia) or who are quite simply depressed in Sois mon amie (Naceur Ktari, Tunisia).
But the question of a cinema seeking its path, seeking its role in the world and in its own society emerges from this diversity. The question of audience has obsessed this cinema right from the outset, but often clouds the issue. It is clear that the desperate efforts to produce popular film often fall into superficiality when the real concern should be conserving the depth that is the very quality of Africa’s cinemas even for a mass audience. What is the point of trying to compete on the same ground as the West, which will always be a technological step ahead, and have the professionalism that justifies it its big budgets? This Fespaco consequently affirms two potential paths:
the continuation of a reflection on the self drawing its force and a certain lyricism from History, literary works and/or legends in the footsteps of major films which, from Sembene to Cissé, have sought to answer the major problems of the moment;
an introspection which positions itself more on the terrain of the daily and the intimate in low-budget films whose formal experimentation illustrates a desire to explore new terrains in an effort to pose (without falling into the myths of the model or of radicalism) the question of individual responsibility in the state of Africa today.
These two trends, which at times have difficulty in existing side by side, both strike me as essential. They complement and reinforce one another, helping us to understand what is missing in our world, currently in the throes of globalization, as they reposition us in the spiral of History and speak to us of our belonging to humanity. From film to film, they draw this knowledge from their culture of resistance, which is enriched by the toing and froing of their Diaspora and the uncertainties of these forced but assumed wanderings.
The Fespaco awards
Feature films:
Etalon de Yennenga: Ali Zaoua (Nabil Ayouch, Morocco)
Oumarou Ganda First Film Award: Rage (Newton I Aduaka, Nigeria)
Special Jury Award: Sia, le rêve du python (Dani Kouyaté, Burkina Faso)
ACP/European Union Award: Sia, le rêve du python (Dani Kouyaté, Burkina Faso)
Best Director: Sois mon amie (Naceur Ktari, Tunisia)
Best Music: Wasis Diop for Les Couilles de l’Elephant (Henri-Joseph Koumba, Gabon)
Best Cinematography: Mohamed Soudani for Adanggaman (Roger Gnoan Mbala, Côte d’Ivoire)
Best Sound: Fawzi Thabet for Siestes Grenadines (Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Tunisia)
Best Décor: Sois mon amie (Naceur Ktari, Tunisia)
Best Editing: Arbi Ben Ali for Sois mon amie (Naceur Ktari, Tunisia)
Best Screenplay: Dôlè (Imunga Ivanga, Gabon)
Best Actor: Makena Diop in Bàttu (Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Mali)
Best Actress: Albertine Nguenssan for the role of the mother in Adangganman (Roger Gnoan Mbala, Côte d’Ivoire)
Paul Robeson Diaspora Award: Lumumba (Raoul Peck, Haiti)
Short films
Best fiction: Bintou (Fanta Regina Nacro, Burkina Faso)
Special Jury Award: Konorofili (Cheikh Fantamady Camara, Guinea)
Best Cinematography: Mouka (Adama Ruamba, Burkina Faso)
Best Documentary: not awarded.

PS 1: Four of the nineteen films selected in the official competition were not screened, either because they were not finished – for example Ainsi meurent les anges (Moussa Sene Absa, Senegal) – or because they did not reach the festival due to airline delays or strikes – namely Djib (Jean Odoutan, Benin, cf. review in Africultures 32), Little Senegal (Rachid Bouchareb, Algeria, cf. review in Africultures 37) and Rituals of Fire (Joël Aryeetey & Tom Ribeiro, Ghana).
PS 2: reviews of other films presented in the feature film panorama can be found on the French pages of www.africultures.com. See, for example, La Baraka du Sheikh (Gadalla Gurapa, 1998), a rarity from Sudan, which is reminiscent of the early days of African film, Fanta (Josephine Bertrand Tchakoua Pouma, Cameroon 2000), a cheery comedy full of good ideas, but put together like a film friends would make for fun, Fragments de vie (François Woukoache, Cameroon 2000) in which the director continues his reflection on the consequences and violence of male chauvinist models, Home Sweet Home (Michael Raeburn & Heidi Draper, Zimbabwe/USA 1999), the painful childhood memories of white Boston and colonial Rhodesia, Le Harem de Mme Osmane (Nadir Moknèche, Algeria 1999) on Algerian women at their wits’end, and Mirka (Rachid Benhadj, Algeria 2000) in which Vanessa Redgrave and Gérard Depardieu go badly astray.
///Article N° : 5551

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