The first thoughts on African film were written by Western critics. Lack of training and the limited opportunities to see the films meant that the filmmakers were not confronted with an African critique. It was thus more often film journalists rather than critics who spoke out. I came to criticism via journalism and after going to the Inafec, the Ouagadougou film school. During the course of my journalism studies, I specialized in film by setting up a film club and by writing my thesis on film production in Burkina Faso. I realized the point to which reflection on the themes and the forms adopted by the filmmakers was lacking. Our films, which are above all social films, strike me as being part of my culture. Psychology and the emphasis on the hero take a back seat, giving way to a community aspect. Film has turned out to be a comprehensive art form for tackling social problems. When writing a paper on Yaaba (Idrissa Ouedraogo), for example, I try to understand our relation with old people or children by analyzing the narrative contents of the story, how the filmmaker forges his discourse. The African spectator is not as uncultivated as people think. He or she consumes a lot of images and is capable of knowing why a film moves him or her or not. Whether there is action or not, he or she feels concerned. I believe in a kind of fiction film based on cultural and social realities. Tilaï and even more so Samba Traoré (Idrissa Ouedraogo) troubled me a little in this respect: a fiction which doesn’t correspond to a social reality. The public is not taken in. It might adhere to violent films such as Rambo, but it doesn’t adhere to this type of undertaking in African film. Henri Duparc’s films, on the other hand, strike me as corresponding well to this demand: the African public has a kind of relation with the cinema that you could find perhaps 50 years ago in Europe when the cinema was a kind of weekend event you went to with your family, through love of the image. People relate to a linear or logical structure and have difficulty in following less classical structures.
I try to reinforce reflection on films, in order to contribute to educating the public. As chief editor of the journal African Screen, I attach importance to a journalist’s cultural background. A Tunisian will explain Halfaouine (Ferid Boughedir) better than someone else: he or she will be more likely to get to the essential. I am thus wary of Western critics due to the divide between social reality cinema in Africa and the prevailing psychological cinema in the West. One group’s criteria cannot be applied to the other. Since 1986, African films such as Yeelen have been represented as « happy syntheses », as Ferid Boughedir put it. Souleymane Cissé was in the process of opening a hitherto unexplored path. Yet, the European critics analyzed the film at face value (magical or mystical) and gave an image that influenced the other filmmakers. The Europeans, who didn’t understand the content, showered praise on the film seeing it as an escapist, exotic film. If an African critique really existed, both the audience and the filmmakers would benefit in terms of reflection and depth of understanding. Word of mouth is more effective than articles in the newspapers which are not always read: if a film speaks about them, the audience adheres. African critics can only intervene once the film has been shown in Europe: the articles written by the European critics remain decisive. A real African critique is a void that needs filling, therefore, on the same level as exploitation, distribution, etc.: a critique which does not start out from the same reading of the image as in Europe, but which thinks about how the filmmakers can be close to their public and take inspiration from their culture.
You cannot produce a critique if you stop at the level of « I like or I don’t like »: the critic has to be conscious of the role he or she must play, that of a real analysis. Can one be negative and not support films which have been so difficult to finish? How, otherwise, can one make things advance? Filmmakers have complained that the doors of funding or of prizes in the festivals are shut to them. It is the critic’s rigour and professionalism which can establish confidence. The Western gaze and the vision it would like to have of African film has always been opposed to the African gaze itself. The current demand for urban films follows the criticisms made in the past of Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Yaaba and Tilaï or Kwah Anah’s Africa Heritage. At one time, a well-made film could not be African. If the Western critics liked Drissa Touré’s Haramuya, it was because they found the Africa the wanted to see in it.
The African public is subjected to multiple influences but hangs onto its values. It likes speaking about the social situation and is amazed that a European who comes to the FESPACO1 knows nothing about the country’s political situation after spending a week in Ouagadougou. An African who travels very quickly tries to become informed: this translates into a real preoccupation which one finds in relation to the cinema. The divide that sometimes exists between filmmakers and their audience comes from a handful of films which have not been popular due to overly abstract forms or themes which are too far removed from reality. Henri Duparc’s films are appreciated by all audiences, whether the mass public or not: Bal Poussière‘s « belote and rebelote » became an expression used in all the African capitals!2
The lack of African State backing forces filmmakers to go to look for money elsewhere. Some will adapt to the Western demand to get funding. That is where the differences lies with filmmakers such as Duparc, Cheikh Oumar Sissoko, Ousmane Sembene or Gaston Kaboré who refuse all influences. The young filmmakers who refuse to be labelled as African filmmakers are, through necessity, often more vulnerable in this respect. A filmmaker is African in relation to the realities which he or she transposes in his/her film: his/her way of approaching the image identifies the film. That is very clear in the visual arts: one always transposes an African reality and culture. The notion of a message is relative as the public remains the only judge: a film imposes itself! If the audience gets access to films from other regions, film can contribute to a certain African unity, helping to know the other.
An anthropologist’s point of view will always be his or her own, that of his/her culture. An African will always have another point of view, especially if it is born out of the reality which he/she films. It would also be interesting to give Africans the chance to give an anthropological view of Europe. I, for my part, would willingly look into the relationship the Europeans have with their dogs! Similarly, it is important to teach the public to read films. A relationship between the critics and the filmmakers is necessary to develop reflection. The newly created Association of Burkinabè critics is going to get together with academic image sociologists to advance in this direction. The possibility of seeing our films being so rare, filmmakers are often illiterate in African film. This association is going to try to remedy this, along with the Ouagadougou film library.
1. The Ougadougou Pan-African Film and Television Festival.
2. In Bal Poussière (Henri Duparc, 1988), which deals with the question of polygamy, the main character Demi-dieu’s sixth wife explains to him on their wedding night that in order to find out whether she is willing to make love with him, he has to ask: « belote », a card game. If she answers « rebelote », she agrees. To refuse, she will say « pass »!///Article N° : 5276