Burkinabè Fanta Régina Nacro’s short films are a big success. Selected by the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes in 2001, Bintou, one of the films made in the southern African Mama Africa series, had just been awarded the Fespaco short film prize in Ouagadougou.
There is a continuity between your films, Bintou, Le Truc de Konaté, Puk Nini, and Relou, namely the desire to challenge the condition of women. Is this the overall direction of your career?
No, it’s one stage. My feature film, La nuit de la vérité, is going to be completely different from the theme of my short films. It’s true that when you’re a woman, you accept commissions that focus on women’s conditions. That’s why I made Femmes capables (Able Women), a documentary about women’s lucrative activities and their combat in Burkina Faso. I remember that when I made Un certain matin, people particularly black American women reproached me for not putting my energies into the women’s struggle. No, I became a filmmaker to tell stories, to share things with people, and not necessarily to use film as a weapon.
Bintou’s determination is impressive, even if she does resort to methods that aren’t always very moral. Why did you choose a character who goes so far?
Because this character exists. What interested me here was the idea that when people really want something, they end up getting it. The same goes for women. It’s the desire that counts.
Bintou doesn’t take advantage of her charms.
No, absolutely not. That would be completely immoral. She uses subtlety and strength of character. She takes risks.
Her husband takes out his anger on her pots, but not on her.
It was a way of saying that men are often big babies. Her husband is versatile on the outside, he wants to prove that he’s the one who wears the trousers, who has everything under control, when he is in fact under his wife’s control.
At one point, Bintou resorts to witchcraft.
I see it as a punishment from God rather than witchcraft. He is so bad that the divinities are against him and show so. It’s God who comes to her help, rather than witchcraft, which is too mystical. But this can also be interpreted as the power exerted by women’s determination.
The film was selected by the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. That’s quite a performance, given the number of African films selected!
I see it as the beginning of a consecration. It is very important to me that the film won the Fespaco prize and has been well received internationally just as I am about to produce my feature film. It has helped me tell myself, « now you can do it ».
Would it be right to say that the film has been such a success because it comes from the heart?
All successful films come from the heart; they are not calculated. It’s not about wanting to prove something. When you try to communicate sincerely and honestly, you necessarily move the people who enter your universe.
What gave you the idea for this film?
The inspiration came from the story of Antoinette, a woman I met when I was making my documentary for the Americans, Able Women. Her story is a reference to that of my mother, who stopped working to marry my father and have children.
The dynamic the typically Burkinabè actors create gives the film great strength.
Absolutely, I saw this potential. The actors host the Vis-à-vis series in which they humorously take their inspiration from reality. They know each other well and have the freedom to take things very far. It was nice to be able to take advantage of this dynamic. It helped me enormously in directing the actors.
Was the screenplay entirely written, or was there a degree of improvisation?
The screenplay was written and I was responsible for the directing. Some of the deliveries and dialogues were improvised. The dialogue I had written was a bit didactic. I gave it to the actors as an idea to work from to find their own words. Some wonderful things came out of this, because the actors are fundamentally African and grounded in the tradition.
What does you production company Les Films du Défi bring you?
I set it up right from the start for Un certain matin. It has produced nearly all my films, either as co-productions with Atria, or, as was the case with Bintou, simply provided the services. I only used it for my films. Today, with the equipment we have managed to obtain and the place we have made for ourselves, we want to produce and back projects by young people who are just starting out in this profession and who haven’t had the chance to go to a film school or follow a training programme. The aim is to offer them a structure and equipment so they can make their first short films. It’s sort of a way of replacing the defunct INAFEC (Ouagadougou film school) and to give others a helping hand. I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I managed to make Un certain matin thanks to friends who gave me their time and energy, notably David-Pierre Fila who gave me the film stock, and Atria its infrastructure. Young people no longer have access to this today. Les Films du Défi aims to serve as a bridge so that they can carry out their projects.
You are actively involved in the Guild’s collective undertakings.
We defend a certain type of cinema and want to exist. We realised that this takes solidarity, and that we need to defend our interests sincerely and truthfully. The truth can’t harm a friendship. That’s more or less our slogan. To join the Guild, you have to agree to give another Guild member two hours a day to go and see his or her film, or read a screenplay. Bintou is what it is thanks to Balufu’s critical feedback. The solidarity, mutual help and truth between us are very important and necessary. At Cannes, we often spend our time chatting, or criticising other films. Things would be better if we used the couple of hours to really work with each other!!
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