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Burkina Faso: Fespaco officially postponed

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Burkina Faso: Fespaco Officially Postponed

Dince its foundation in 1969, the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco) – which became a biennial in 1979 – has established itself as both the main international event for professionals of the 7e African art and its diaspora and as a great popular festival. Each edition sees films of all formats compete for the ultimate award, the Gold Standard. While it was to be held at the end of February, it was, like the Cannes Film Festival or the Berlinale, postponed, in a context of the rebound of the Covid-19 epidemic in West Africa. The announcement was made official this Friday, January 29. The Burkinabè council of ministers “adopted the decision to postpone the holding of Fespaco to a later date,” government spokesman Ousseni Tamboura said during a press briefing in the capital.

Burkina Faso, where 10,423 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed since the start of the pandemic for 120 deaths, is experiencing, like the rest of West Africa, a second wave larger than the first. “In view of the health situation, both nationally and internationally, linked to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be difficult to keep Fespaco on the right date,” added Ousseni Tamboura. “It will not be easy for us to decide on a (next date) because it is linked to the evolution of the health situation“, further underlined the government spokesperson, also Minister of Communication.

“Very few planned productions have been carried out” since the start of the pandemic, detailed a statement from the Council of Ministers. “Film shoots have either been stopped, postponed or simply canceled, causing enormous losses throughout the film production chain.” This postponement is announced two days after that of the Cannes Film Festival, the most important film festival in the world, which is traditionally held in May but postponed to July. The first festival to start the year, the Berlinale, which was initially scheduled to be held from February 11 to 21 in Germany, was also forced to postpone its edition until early March, where the competition will be held online due to the pandemic.

Immerse yourself in the history of Fespaco

At the start a small festival, organized by a group of friends at the Franco-Voltaic cultural center of Ouagadougou, known as the Semaine du cinema africaine, the Fespaco went beyond this mission to become a more important framework for promote African cinema. So that there are finally “images of Africa by Africa and for Africa”, according to a now historic formula. With the support of General Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana (president of Upper Volta, future Burkina Faso, from 1966 to 1980, editor’s note), cinephile, the festival asserted itself in the 1970s and 1980s, with the nationalization of theaters movies. Objective: to allow people to see African films. With the presidency of Thomas Sankara from 1983 to 1987, Fespaco really takes on an international dimension with the increasingly important presence of the African diaspora. A real economy is being set up with strong financial support from the State.

Since then, the festival has helped to promote the greatest African directors, such as Ousmane Sembene, Souleymane Cissé, Idrissa Ouedraogo or Abderrahmane Sissako, and also remains a great showcase for young talents both in front of and behind the camera. In the 1990s, the political class withdrew from culture, in particular under the influence “of the structural adjustment policy advocated by the IMF. The rooms are closing. We hit rock bottom, ”the president of the organizing committee, Yacouba Traore, told AFP at the time of the fiftieth anniversary.

An increasingly open meeting

At the 26e edition of the Burkinabè Fespaco held in 2019, the Rwandan film The Mercy of the Jungle (The Mercy of the Jungle), by Joël Karekezi, won the Gold Standard. The best actress award went to Samantha Mugotsia, for her role in Friend, from the Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu. This film, screened in Cannes in 2018, had been censored in his country because it told a love story between two women. As usual, on the sidelines of the festival at the end of February was to be held on the 20e International African Cinema and Audiovisual Market (MICA), a stock exchange for African audiovisual programs and on Africa open to professionals.

Beyond being a film festival, Fespaco has also become over the years a sounding board for social debates. As in the 2019 edition, the fiftieth anniversary of Fespaco, which had also been marked by the revelation of sexual assaults against women in the world of African cinema. Inspired by the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements, two actresses, the French Nadège Beausson-Diagne and the Burkinabè Azata Soro, have accused African filmmakers of sexual harassment and assault against them. The Burkinabè actress and director was attacked during a filming in 2017 by the Burkinabè filmmaker Tahirou Tasséré Ouedraogo, who slashed her face with a shard of a bottle. Two women’s collectives, Cinéastes non aligned and Noire n’est pas mon profession, launched a movement, #MemePasPeur, to “free the voice of women” in Africa, hoping to encourage other women to testify.

Breathing for Burkina Faso

The great festival of African cinema has also for several years been the only manifestation of the global influence of Burkina, a Sahelian country sucked into the spiral of sub-regional jihadism. First quartered in northern Mali, jihadist groups affiliated for some with Al-Qaeda and others with the Islamic State organization have since spread in the Sahelian sub-region, particularly in the north and east of the “land of the men of integrity ”. The security situation has continued to deteriorate since 2015. The State, which is not very present, is unable to stem the spiral of violence which is only worsening despite international interventions. Despite these security risks, Fespaco was not disturbed by any incident. The Burkinabè authorities continue to deploy maximum security measures.


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