Essentially, it's the highest honor the festival awards to the best feature film screening in competition at the festival. But films that are only available to screen in some digital format are not eligible to compete for that award.
Therefore, if your film isn't shot on 35MM, you'd have to blow it up to 35MM (which can be costly) so that it can be selected for the main competition.
Of course, for Nollywood filmmakers whose films are predominantly shot and distributed in digital format, this is a problem that many are saying needs to be addressed immediately, especially when you consider that Nigeria is the continent’s leading film-producing nation, and it's odd that the country's film industry isn't properly represented at Africa's most important festival.
In this year's lineup of films that qualify for the Golden Stallion, only one film out of 20 is by a Nigerian filmmaker - One Man Show made by Newton
Aduaka Ifeanyi. However, some argue that even Ifeanyi's film isn't "fully Nigerian/Nollywood" because it fits a trend that has seen past Nigerian films at FESPACO in recent years, made by Europe-based Nigerian filmmakers, and not purely Nollywood filmmakers and Nollywood-style films.
Newton Aduaka Ifeanyi is a Nigerian-born, France-based filmmaker.
The other film by a Nigerian filmmaker at the festival this year has been relegated to the Video category, which means it can't compete for the Golden Stallion - Niji Akanni's Heroes and Zeroes.
But this obviously affects, not only Nigeria, but filmmakers from any other African country who aren't able to provide 35MM prints of their films, and FESPACO has, thus far, refused to change that rule, despite the fact that more and more films are being produced and distributed in various digital formats currently.
"Yes, I agree that the beauty of the images is in shooting on celluloid, but you can still make films on digital format and it will still give you the same resolution like celluloid," said Nigerian filmmaker Mahmood Ali-Balogun (Tango With Me). He continued, "I respect FESPACO’s position on accepting films on celluloid for official competition, but I think it is time they begin to consider films shot on digital because even the 35mm projectors are disappearing fast from our cinemas. They are becoming obsolete. Besides, where is the money to shoot on celluloid these days? It is convenient for our colleagues in francophone Africa to shoot on celluloid because of the many sources of funding at their disposal. But we are not that lucky in Anglophone Africa. So, is FESPACO asking us to close shops simply because we are not able to make films on celluloid? I think it is fair that they should accommodate our shortcoming which is basically lack of funding."
Films like Charles Vundla's South African crime drama, How to Steal 2 Million (which we've talked about a lot on S&A), was shot on digital, but blown up to 35MM (courtesy of the South African Film and Video Foundation), allowing it to compete for the Golden Stallion this year.
It's said that no movie produced by a purely Nollywood filmmaker has ever competed outside the Vdeo category at FESPACO in the last 20 years - essentially since Living in Bondage, the 1992 drama/thriller directed by Chris Obi Rapu, that helped launched the brand of Nollywood that we've come to know and love today.
As for other prominent festivals, I can't speak for all, but I believe Sundance, SXSW, Cannes and Berlin will all screen both 35MM as well as high-end digital formats. And when it comes to these high-end digital formats, Sundance and SXSW will accept HDCAM tape and DCP; while Cannes and Berlin will accept only DCP.
I think you'll find similar acceptable presentation formats for most other major film festivals. The smaller festivals tend to be much more flexible.
FESPACO won't even consider HDCAM or DCP. It's 35MM or your film is *demoted* to the Video category, and can't compete for the grand prize.
I read a few tweets on Twitter today stating that there have been rumors that FESPACO will change that rule in 2015 (the next festival - it happens once every 2 years), and will finally allow digitally projected films to compete for its Golden Stallion. No confirmation of any of those rumors yet; but you have to believe that, at some point in the very near future, they'll be forced to reconsider, given how quickly digital technology is consuming cinema all over the world.