The twenty third (23rd) edition of the Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) starts today, and will run through March 2, 2013, with “African Cinema and Public Policy in Africa” as this edition’s theme.
101 total titles (shorts, features, documentaries, TV serials, and more) will be screened at the festival, one of the most significant in all of Africa, and in the world - especially when it comes to Diaspora cinema.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to be at FESPACO this year - I've never been, but I can guarantee that my first opportunity will come in 2 years, when the next edition is held.
However, I've made connections with a handful of folks who are attending this year, so we should be getting a few write-ups about the festival and its films over the next week - at least, I hope so. From what I'm told by some, Internet is spotty, and digital transmissions aren't a guarantee.
But let's keep our finger's crossed, because there are a number of films - feature films specifically - that are high on my to-see list. And it is those 6 films - from Morocco, Guinée Bissau, Gabon, Angola, Nigeria, and Mozambique - that I'm highlighting in the post; some we've previously profiled; others are being profiled for the first time.
I hope I can get reviews of all or most of the 6; there are after all 101 total titles being screened, with 20 of those being feature films.
Before I jump in, I should say that I had difficulty getting information on several of the projects in this year's FESPACO lineup. The web is really my chief resource, and I've just come to expect that I'll be able to find enough information on almost any film that's already in circulation - "in circulation" being the key words here. If your film is premiering at a top film festival, I'd hope that filmmakers, no matter where you are, will recognize the potential reach having a web presence has - especially in this day of a global digital film marketplace.
However, I had brief chats (both online and offline) about this, and what can be said to counter that is to recognize that the world isn't equally wired; and secondly, as I learned from Nollywood Tweets this morning, there's actually a reluctance to embrace the technology because some question whether there's any real value in having an online presence. This is something that I plan to explore further in a separate post, but I need to do a lot of research first, so I actually know what I'm talking about.
And there are I those that I was able to find information on, but it was all in a language I couldn't understand; and while Google Translate is a great tool, its results are, at times, as difficult to piece together as the same sentences in the original language.
I guess this is where I remind myself that I need to learn to speak as many other languages as possible. French I understand bit, and so I'm usually able to pick up on a word here and there within a sentence to translate a full sentence. But I still have much to learn.
It also doesn't help that the festival itself doesn't provide complete breakdowns of each film - certainly not on its website, or in any of the press materials I've received. All I have in front of me is a list of films, who the directors are and what countries they are representing. No synopsis, no list of actors, no year of production, etc. All information that would be really helpful and that I wouldn't have to go searching for - especially the synopsis. At the very least, include a brief description of what each film is about. Maybe, locally, there's a program that has all that extra info...
But I mentioned this in relation to my list of 6 films to see at FESPACO this year, because, this list could've been a lot longer, if I was able to readily get all the information I needed, to use in determining what films to put on this list.
I'll certainly continue researching those films I couldn't find much information on. But, for the time being, these are the 6 I could come up with based on available info:
1 - Androman de sang et de charbon, (which translates roughly as Androman... of blood and coal), by Moroccan filmmaker Az Larabe Alaoui. This is what I was able to piece together from the translation from the Arabic synopsis I found (courtesy of Google): in short, a family living at the foot of the Atlas mountains, is headed by an arrogant, boorish father who wants to leave his coal legacy to a son; but, unfortunately, he has no sons and stands risking losing what his father left him, without a son. So he decides, in an effort to maintain this patriarchal tradition, both privately and publicly, to turn his eldest daughter into the son he wants to to hand his legacy down to. But the charade can't go one forever. And things get even more complicated when his daughter (parading as his son) falls in love.
From what I read about the film, it's appears to have some fantastical elements in it, as it seems that the father actually physically transforms the young lady into a young man somehow.
But outside of that, the story intrigues - the lengths a father will go to protect his legacy in this case. It's billed as a serious drama/adventure movie, so it's definitely not a comedy, even though it might have some comedic elements in it.
This isn't the film's world premiere, by the way. It's a 2012 film that has been touring the festival circuit (although I don't think it's played that widely yet - definitely not in the USA).
2 - Children's Republic (La république des enfants) by Bissau-Guinean filmmaker Flora Gomes, the synopsis for the film follows:
In West Africa, there's a small country every adult abandoned. The children get organized and the Children's Republic becomes a stable and prosperous country. But the children can no longer grow up.
This one really intrigues me because, as I learned, it's a futuristic tale of a city ruled by children, its only inhabitants after a horrific and tragic civil war. And even more strange, the children, for some reason, don't age. Conflict arises when child soldiers from the outside enter this unusual community of children who don't age. It's been suggested by some that the film is an allegory on the possibility of African youth taking over the hope of building democracy on the African continent without forgetting its past.
The film was produced in France (I found 2 different production dates on different sites. Some say it was produced in 2010, while others say in 2012) with funds from the European Union, and it's categorized as a fantasy film.
Danny Glover (who Americans will of course recognize) co-stars in the film, which is set in Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, along with Melanie Vales Rafael, and Hedviges Mamudo.
3 - From Gabon, Le Collier du Makoko (The King's Necklace), by Henri-Joseph Koumba Bidid. The synopsis from the film's website, which provided English translations to just about everything, reads:
She was once a queen who decides to return a sacred necklace that belonged to one of her ancestors. This necklace, she thinks, will bring balance and prosperity in her people; He was once a big fan of the scientific preservation of ecosystems that works for the reintroduction of lions in his country; Once upon a time a young orphan raised a lion which he refuses to be separated from; This is the story of three returns that fate will bring together for an adventure between France and Gabon.
Of course, I'd guess that, how each of the 3 strands meet, will probably help tie up loose ends and give the films its meaning.
I'm intrigued by the cross-continental/cultural adventure that this sounds like.
Of its cast, the name that I think some in the west would recognize is Eriq Ebouaney, who starred in Raoul Peck's Lumumba, over 10 years ago.
4 - O Grande Kilapy (The Great Kilapy - photo above), directed by Angolan filmmaker Zézé Gamboa. The film's synopsis reads:
Zézé Gamboa's sardonic historical drama follows a good-hearted, apolitical con man who, on the eve of Angolan independence in the mid-1970s, pulls off a massive swindle at the expense of the Portuguese colonial administration — and soon after finds himself hailed as a hero of the national liberation struggle.
Apparently, this apolitical man's name is Joãozinho, and he happens to live in luxury, buying expensive cars and dating beautiful white girls, all of which shocks the Portuguese dictatorial colonial regime. He just wants to have a good life, and unintentionally becomes a subversive political hero.
Zézé Gamboa has stated that he considers himself part of a movement of African filmmakers who see their work as directly impacting the task of national reconstruction.
The Great Kilapy stars Lázaro Ramos - the man who has been called Brazil's Denzel Washington. Some of you may already be familiar with Ramos' work - specifically a 2005 Brazilian film titled, O Homem que Copiava (or The Man Who Copied) - a film that we've highlighted on S&A in the past.
But this looks like it could be great, stylish/stylized fun, and I'd love to check it out.
5 - A drama from Mozambique, directed by Licinio Azevedo, titled, Virgem Margarida (Virgin Margarida) - a feature film, set in 1975, as revolution swept the streets of its capital Maputo, ridding it of prostitutes and other so-called *undersirables*. The women are then sent to re-education camps, to become "new women." However, unfortunately for her, 16-year-old Margarida is mistakenly taken; the problem is she's not a prostitute; she's actually a virgin (hence the title). The film tells her story. In the re-education camp, the revelation that Margarida is a virgin changes everything for everyone else around her. For starters, the other prostitutes start to worship her like a saint.
Director Azevedo, who is said to have been under the tutelage of icons like Jean Luc-Godard and Jean Rouch, works in a combo documentary/scripted fiction style, usually reflecting the varied real-life stories that are live in Mozambique, his home country.
Virgin Margarida is his 10th feature since 1995. I have a lot of catching up to do apparently. Now if only I could readily access most of those films here in the USA, or online.
6 - And finally, the film adaptation of celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange Prize-winning novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun, which is supposed to make its world premiere at FESPACO.
This is playwright Biyi Bandele's feature film directorial debut, with a cast that includes Thandie Newton, John Boyega, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dominic Cooper, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle and Genevieve Nnaji.
Described as an epic love story, here's the official synopsis released by the film's producers which tells us what role each starring actor will play:
... weaving together the lives of four people swept up in the turbulence of war. Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose) are glamorous twins from a wealthy Nigerian family. Returning to a privileged city life in newly independent 1960s Nigeria after their expensive English education, the two women make very different choices. Olanna shocks her family by going to live with her lover, the “revolutionary professor” Odenigbo (Ejiofor) and his devoted houseboy Ugwu (Boyega) in the dusty university town of Nsukka; Kainene turns out to be a fiercely successful businesswoman when she takes over the family interests, and surprises herself when she falls in love with Richard (Mawle) an English writer. Preoccupied by their romantic entanglements, and a betrayal between the sisters, the events of their life loom larger than politics. However, they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war, in which the lgbo people fought an impassioned struggle to establish Biafra an independent republic, ending in chilling violence which shocked the entire country and the world.
Award-winning Nigerian songwriter Cobhams Asuquo and singer-songwriter Keziah Jones who are composing original music for the film.
This is a project we've been following closely since it was first announced, so you should already be familiar with it - at least I hope so.
To catch up, I'd start with our Book To Film report on the project HERE.
If you're at FESPACO, and you're reading this, please email me and let me know. I'm like to have as many reactions to the festival and this year's films, as possible.
And if you're the filmmaker of any of the films I've listed here, or of any of the 101 films screening that we have not profiled on this site, please don't hesistate to contact me at email@example.com. Or if you're affiliated with any of the films - whether as a producer, actor, DP, sales agent, PR, etc - contact me as well.
Otherwise, enjoy! Let's hope that these films - and the other 95 - travel!