Inauguration of Fespaco 2021, African cinema in fashion

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First set, then postponed, it finally becomes a reality. The 27th edition of Fespaco defied the storms of pandemic and terrorism and opens its doors this Saturday, October 16 in Ouagadougou. For eight days, the largest African film festival and its diaspora celebrate the seventh art in the capital of Burkina Faso with a selection of 239 films from 50 countries and hopes for a revival.

Who will be crowned on October 23 as the successor to the young Rwandan filmmaker Joël Karakezi who won the highest award in 2019, the Yennenga Gold Standard? For the inauguration of Fespaco 2021, on Saturday at the Palais des sports de Ouagadougou, there will first be a show dedicated to Princess Amazon Yennenga, choreographed by Burkinabè Serge Aimé Coulibaly as an anthem to resist the plagues of pandemic and terrorism. Having set up outdoor screens in the capital Burkinabè also shows the authorities’ determination.

Senegal, country of honor and symbol of this 27th edition

The opening film Atlantiques symbolizes in a way the coronation of the French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, the first director of African origin to be awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Senegal is also the land of honor and the symbol of this 27th edition both in search of its roots and in the conquest of new Pan-African horizons. Director Alain Gomis, winner of the Gold Standard 2013 and 2017, will be honored in Ouagadougou with a statue on the same avenue of filmmakers where the sculpture of his legendary compatriot Ousmane Sembène already exists. The latter had directed in 1962 Borom Sarret, one of the first African films to be shot in Africa. As for Alain Gomis, he now maintains the cinema with his Yennenga Center in Dakar, where he trains young African directors to gradually build up film autonomy in Africa. And Mamadou Dia, winner of the Golden Leopard, is on his way, with Nafi’s father for the Gold Standard 2021, under the watchful eye of Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, jury president.

Read also: Unesco, Netflix and the film industry’s big challenge in Africa

The strength of African diversity

To ensure the presence of directors from as many African countries as possible in the competition, Fespaco’s new general manager, Alex Moussa Sawadogo, played the diversity card. The main category of the competition shows 17 feature films from 15 different countries, with only Egypt securing two films on the list. Mali is absent from the fiction competition for the first time. Festival goers expect real movie finds from all over the continent. Among the lucky ones is, for example, This is not a funeral, it is a resurrection, already handed out by the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival, directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese from Lesotho, a country with 2.3 million inhabitants where he has no cinemas, only four traveling cinemas, and where only “ten people currently make a living from making films in the country”, according to a UNESCO report.

Also read: Fespaco 2021, the new challenge for “African and diaspora cinemas”

Another country is often seen in cinemas as a popular movie venue and for its productions, but often absent from the world map for directors, Namibia, represented by director Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret and her film The White Line. About ten local films are played each year in Namibia and are shown on the sixteen cinema screens in the big cities. Ahmed Khadar will carry with his very poetic and moving film, The Gravedigger’s Wife, the honor of Somalia, a country of 15 million inhabitants with eight cinemas.

A third gold standard for Burkina Faso?

Film enthusiasts in Burkina Faso, the festival’s host country, hope that the Gold Standard will be won for the third time by a Burkinabè director. After Idrissa Ouedraogo in 1991, with Tilaï and Gaston Kaboré in 1997, with Buud Yam, all eyes are on Boubacar Diallo and his film Les trois Lascars.

This 2021 edition will take place at a critical moment for cinema and for the country. For years, Burkina Faso has faced the resurgence of terrorist attacks. And the biggest film festival in Africa will take place at a time when American platforms are clearly determined to conquer the African continent. Since 1969, Burkina, a country of 27 million people, has proudly supported the largest film festival in Africa, but today the results for the country’s film and audiovisual industry seem rather modest. The Guimbi cinema in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second city, is scheduled to open in October, one of the eight theaters that are regular. According to figures from the Ministry of Culture of Burkinabè, an average of about forty local films are produced each year in the land of upright men. The bio- and audiovisual sector currently provides 2,000 direct jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs. Revenue from the sector is estimated at $ 2 million.

Between national pride, pan-African power and the digital revolution

The efforts for the festival 2021 and its new director general, Alex Moussa Sawadogo, are therefore enormous. How to maintain both national pride for Fespaco and promote the quality and diversity of African films? At the same time, it is a matter of accepting the challenge of embracing the crime caused by the digital revolution with an offering of films and series (as it is also the Pan-African Television Festival with its international African cinema market.) Suitable for platforms. All this in a country where only 16% of the population are considered internet users and only 32% of mobile subscribers have access to the Internet via their mobile.

Meanwhile, the capital of African film gives us a meeting to live happily the 27th edition of Fespaco until the winners, announced on October 23. Long live the cinema!

The list of 17 feature films in competition at Fespaco 2021:

Air conditioning, by Mario Bastos (Angola)

Baamum Nafi, from Mamadou Dia (Senegal)

Bendskins (Moto Taxi), by Narcise Wandji (Cameroon)

Eyimofe (This is My Wish), by Chuko Esiri (Nigeria)

Farewell Cupid, by Ekwa Msangi (Tanzania)

Feathers, by Omar El Zohainy (Egypt)

Freda, by Gessica Geneus (Haiti)

The Gravedigger’s Wife, by Ahmed Khadar (Somalia)

Night of the Kings, by Philippe Lacôte (Ivory Coast)

The Three Lascars, Boubakar Diallo (Burkina Faso)

Lingui, the Holy Bands, by Haroun Mahamat-Saleh (Chad)

Nameless (The Anonymous), by Wa Nkunda Mutiganda (Rwanda)

Oliver Black, from Tawfik Baba (Morocco)

Souad, by Amin Ayten (Egypt)

The White Line, by Desireee Kahikopo-Meiffret (Namibia)

This is not a funeral, this is a resurrection, by Jeremiah Lemohang Mosese (Lesotho)

A story of love and lust, by Leyla Bouzid (Tunisia)

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