What was the actors’ objective in participating in Fespaco?
We wanted to do a sort of critique of our profession. We wanted to see what the constraints are, the demands and obligations, in order to move towards collaborating in the production of films. We thought it was necessary to create a support network for African actors to consider training in academic form or introductory workshops by older actors for younger ones. We also created a pilot committee to devise regulatory texts and prepare a general assembly to constitute a federative body.
So you intend to create a network?
There isn’t any database for actors other than the one that Casting Sud created with limited means. We need to be able to access images showing what everyone can contribute. Some of us have a wealth of experience that could be exploited. Creating a school is expensive and not necessarily a viable option but we can still let the younger generation benefit from our experience.
How are candidates selected?
The term « professional » is a bit restricting. You don’t need a degree to be talented. The desire to devote yourself to this career is what makes you professional. It’s not the kind of profession you simply do because you haven’t got anything else to do. We run the risk of not mobilising people effectively if we start out by providing an overly general definition of acting. Professionalism means that acting’s a career that you can live from but this implies a job in which you watch films and read as well. We aren’t just a body that recites dialogue. If I’m chosen for a film it’s because the film was written with me in mind, and I can participate in it.
Isn’t it dangerous for actors to be involved in the conception stage? Does this create confusion between roles?
We don’t want to take over the whole film. What we’re saying is that we’re thinking people capable of contributing. If I lose my father or my mother a couple of days before the shoot, am I still « usable »? We need to be close enough to the director for him to be aware of these kinds of things. Morning talks create a bond that instigates closeness.
Can a professional play any kind of role?
You can’t fake it otherwise it’s just miming. Film is about emotion. When I laugh I don’t just show my teeth. Every fibre of my body has to show that I’m happy.
What was your most powerful role?
Poko, a short film by Idrissa Ouedraogo that I did 20 years ago. In all Idrissa’s films there is at least one image from Poko.
Do you expect the Internet to help with promoting African actors?
This is the key to collecting and publishing information. Fespaco has allowed us to put photos on the web site of actors from the Zaka exhibition held in Ouagadougou during the festival. However, from now on, we have to create our own web site one that’s more active, more appealing!
What is your general impression at the end of the 18th Fespaco?
It lacks fever, passion. We’re somewhat dispersed. Other than the organisation’s action concerning actors, no major initiatives came out of the festival generally. We were overwhelmed or mixed up with other things. The distance wasn’t necessarily physical but we had to seek each other out to talk … We need to mature where reflection is concerned. We have to focus a lot more on film.
The theme was also a trap but the press played along. All sorts of people, from the press, to television and radio, approached us.
However, we’re still not getting much recognition. No actor has ever been awarded with a prize for their entire body of work whereas Sembene has.
Did you feel any competition from black actors living in Europe?
European cinema out of laziness or a need to justify itself uses blacks without taking their roles very far. These kinds of roles are alibis and pretexts. Europeans could have played them. Blacks are often used to colour the film. If filmmakers want to use black actors, there’s a veritable breeding ground here. That’s what the Dardenne brothers did. They wanted a black caught up in the turmoil of immigration. A black actor from Europe couldn’t have played the role in the same way. What’s more, we are a real draw card for the film market in our countries! Our fellow countrymen go to see our films.
But there’s no difference between black actors from Africa and Europe. We’re all under-utilised! My films are distributed and I’m well known there’s no competition.
It’s true that black actors living in Europe have an advantage over us in that they live in the world of film but we have an advantage in terms of the quantity of films. They’re under-utilised. They’re not used enough on a continent where their talent can’t be put to good use. We need them to find openings in Europe. They need to take poorly paid jobs here to prove their dominance!
What initiatives have come out of this Fespaco?
1) We’re going to write a script speaking out against Aids, along the lines of Philadelphia.
2) We’re going to set up an organisation to facilitate coordination and dialogue.
3) On a national level, we’re going to work on an actors’ union to obtain an official status for actors and a legal framework for the profession.
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