First canceled, then postponed, it finally becomes reality. The 27th edition of Fespaco braved the storms of the pandemic and terrorism and opens its doors this Saturday, October 16 in Ouagadougou. For eight days, the biggest festival of African cinema and its diaspora celebrates the seventh art in the capital of Burkina Faso with a selection of 239 films from 50 countries and the hope of a revival.
Who will be crowned on October 23 as the successor of the young Rwandan filmmaker Joël Karakezi who won the supreme distinction in 2019, the Yennenga Gold Standard? For the opening of Fespaco 2021, this 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 a hymn to resistance against the plagues of the pandemic and terrorism. The fact of having also set up outdoor screens in the Burkinabè capital, also shows the determination of the authorities.
Senegal, country of honor and emblematic of this 27th edition
The opening film Atlantic in a way symbolizes the coronation of Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, the first director of African origin distinguished at the Cannes Festival with the Jury Prize. Senegal is also the country of honor and emblematic 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 in 2013 and 2017, will be honored in Ouagadougou with a statue in the same avenue des filmmakers where the sculpture of his legendary compatriot Ousmane Sembène is already located. The latter had realized in 1962 Borom Sarret, one of the first African films shot in Africa. As for Alain Gomis, he now maintains the flame of cinema with his Yennenga Center in Dakar where he trains young African directors to gradually build cinematographic autonomy in Africa. And Mamadou Dia, winner of the Golden Leopard, is in the running, with The father of the Nafi, for the 2021 Gold Standard, under the watchful eye of Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, president of the jury.
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 premier category of the competition displays 17 feature films from 15 different countries, with only Egypt securing two films on the list. Festival-goers expect real cinematographic discoveries from all over the continent. Among the lucky ones is for example This is not a burial, it’s a resurrection, already awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival, directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese from Lesotho, a country of 2.3 million inhabitants where there are no cinemas, only four traveling cinemas, and where only ” ten people currently make a living from filmmaking in the country », According to a Unesco report.
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Another country often seen in the cinema as a very popular filming location and for its sets, but often absent from the world map of directors, Namibia, represented by director Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret and her film The White Line. About ten local films are shot each year in Namibia and shown on the sixteen cinema screens in major cities. Ahmed Khadar will carry with his very poetic and touching 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 buffs 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 The three 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, however, today the result for the country’s film and audiovisual industry seems quite modest. The Guimbi cinema in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second city of the country, will be after its opening scheduled for October one of the eight theaters operating on a regular basis. According to figures communicated by the Burkinabè Ministry of Culture, around forty local films are produced on average each year in the country of upright men. The cinema and audiovisual sector currently provides 2,000 direct jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs. Revenues generated by the sector are estimated at $ 2 million.
Between national pride, pan-African strength and the digital revolution
The stakes for the 2021 festival and for 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 question of taking up the challenge of embracing the rupture caused by the digital revolution with an offer of films and series (because it is also the Pan-African Television Festival with its International African Cinema Market. ) also 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 Internet access via their mobile.
In the meantime, the capital of African cinema gives us an appointment to live with joy 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 conditioner, by Mario Bastos (Angola)
Baamum Nafi, from Mamadou Dia (Senegal)
Bendskins (Moto Taxi), by Narcise Wandji (Cameroon)
Eyimofe (This is my desire), de Chuko Esiri (Nigeria)
Farewell Amor, d’Ekwa Msangi (Tanzania)
Feathers, d’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 sacred ties, by Haroun Mahamat-Saleh (Chad)
Nameless (Les anonymes), by Wa Nkunda Mutiganda (Rwanda)
Oliver Black, de Tawfik Baba (Maroc)
Souad, by Amin Ayten (Egypt)
The White Line, by Desireee Kahikopo-Meiffret (Namibia)
This is not a burial, it is a resurrection, de Jeremiah Lemohang Mosese (Lesotho)
A story of love and desire, by Leyla Bouzid (Tunisia)