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African film festival shows a multifaceted view of the continent | Cinema | DW

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It is the first screening of the largest film festival in Africa, FESPACO, and the small auditorium of the French Institute cannot accommodate all those who have come to see Emmanuel Rotoubam Mbaide’s new film. Massoud.

Mbaide, Chadian-Burkinabè filmmaker, is well known in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. In the film, Dari Massoud, son of an imam, joins a terrorist group involved in drug trafficking. The film shows the police shooting an innocent man and failing to face the consequences. “I don’t want to denounce police misconduct with this film. I want to paint a picture of this world of war where you don’t know who the enemy is,” said Mbaide, stressing that now is not the time to do ” just beautiful movies. ” Movies these days, he told DW, need to take a critical look at society.

Cinema enthusiasm and terrorism

Massoud is not the only film at the festival that deals with the subject of terrorism. Moroccan production Black Olive also tackles the subject, just like the Burkinabé documentary Massiba, the evil of a people. The subject is omnipresent in the region, particularly in the Sahel, the belt of land bordered by the Sahara to the north and the Sudanese savannah to the south.

While waiting for the opening film of FESPACO

The current crises in the region also worried the FESPACO organizing team – some of the guests did not come due to the ongoing pandemic and the security situation, festival director Alex Moussa Sawadogo said. “At the same time, we are pleased that large delegations have confirmed their participation.” Sawadogo, who lives partly in Berlin, started the Afrikamera festival in 2007, among other projects, and has curated various film festivals around the world.

Burkina Faso has seen numerous attacks by terrorist groups and bandits since January 2016. More than 1.4 million people have fled for fear of attack. To avoid incidents in Ouagadougou, several checks were carried out around the capital before the opening of the film festival. The police presence during the festival is enormous. The sites are cordoned off and bag checking is compulsory.

Lots of potential, but a lack of funding

The importance of FESPACO is immense for Burkina Faso. The festival was first held in 1969 and is considered one of the country’s flagship events. This year, the 27th edition with 239 films should have taken place in February but was postponed to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the ambassador of the European Union delegation, Wolfram Vetter, the whole cultural sector plays a “huge role” in the country. “After all, 2% of gross domestic product is tied to the film industry; it creates jobs and is a very important economic factor,” he says.

Burkina Faso |  FESPACO, a soldier checks a person's bag, long line of people waiting

Bags are checked for fear of terrorist attacks

The potential has just been highlighted by UNESCO in a new report. About five million people work in the film industry across the continent, generating $ 5 billion (4.3 billion euros) per year. With the right support, that number could quadruple. But the infrastructure is lacking. In some countries there is only one permanent cinema, if this is the case.

“African cinema suffers from a lack of funding,” criticizes Sawadogo. “In many countries there is no political will for cinema.”

The booming Senegalese film industry

There are new approaches to financing the industry in Senegal. The Fund for the Promotion of the Film Industry (Focipa) was created recently. It supports projects with funding of 1.5 million euros and has recently contributed to the screening of successful films. The success of the hour is the film Atlantic by Mati Diop, who won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019. The love story between migration, arranged marriage and magic was shown for the first time on Saturday at the opening.

Burkina Faso |  FESPACO, several men outside, some with cameras

The making of the film “Massoud”

To create such films, international co-productions are necessary. The European Union is one of the sponsors. But that doesn’t mean that filmmakers are less independent, argues Alex Moussa Sawadago. “I think they can work independently in these co-productions,” he says. Even if he admits that in the end European producers have better access to the funding necessary to make African films.

The power of documentary film

According to Kenyan filmmaker Sam Soko, all genres are also struggling to find funding. He recently made a documentary titled Gentle, which follows the life of Kenyan photographer Boniface Mwangi, winner this year of the Luxembourg Peace Prize in the “Young Peacemaker” category. Mwangi first became an activist and then, in 2017, a candidate for the legislative elections. “It’s important to stick to our story and see where we are right now, politically, and in the way we deal with each other,” Soko said. He documented the intimidation attempts and the effects of political activism on family life. “Her country comes before her family,” Mwangi’s wife Hellen Njeri says in the documentary.

Burkina Faso |  FESPACO, Sam Soko, man at the microphone

Sam Soko, a dedicated filmmaker

The only projection of Burkinabe films in the main competition of the festival is The three Lascars by Boubakar Diallo. It is one of the few comedies shown and tells the story of three friends who feign a business trip to Abidjan in Ivory Coast, when in fact they are planning a weekend with their lovers. The plan goes awry as their plane crashes and they are presumed dead. It’s a plot that creates a pleasant distraction for a moment of otherwise serious matters at this year’s FESPACO.

This article was translated from German.