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FESPACO 2013: 'How Free Are African Artists?'

Festivals
by Tambay A. Obenson
February 26, 2013 1:37 PM
3 Comments
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The twenty third (23rd) Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), in Burkina Faso, West Africa - a festival that occurs only once every two years - is underway (it kicked off officially on Saturday), and will run through this Saturday, March 22013, so just a few more to go before it's all over.

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 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, and I hoped (and still do hope) that I'll be receiving write-ups about the festival and its films from those folks over the remaining 4 1/2 days. I haven't received any yet, so, thus far, other than my 6 Feature Films We Want To See At FESPACO post over the weekend, we haven't really had any FESPACO coverage.

But, as I said, I'm hoping that one of my contacts at the festival delivers eventually. From what I was told by some, Internet is spotty, and digital transmissions aren't alsways swift or even a guarantee.

But let's keep our finger's crossed.

So, in the meantime, what I will do is gather FESPACO coverage that I find on the web that I deem worth sharing. I should note that I've actually not read any film reviews from the festival yet - not that there aren't any, but I just haven't come across a single one yet. There've been a few 1-sentence Twitter reactions to some films, but no full write-ups that I've read.

The first piece I'm going to share comes from BBC Africa, and it's not a review of a film, but an interesting discussion with African artists, on the ongoing debate about artistic freedom on the continent.

It's titled Fespaco: How free are African artists?

I should first say that I had an immediate negative knee-jerk reaction to the question, but kept an open mind as I read the entire piece, including the several informative responses to the question.

In short, BBC Africa posed the question to several filmmakers and festival organizers from varying backgrounds.

Here's just one response from film curator Keith Shiri (whom I actually interviewed for S&A in the fall of 2011 as a Focus Feature Africa First mentor):

In its comparatively short history, African cinema has been viewed with considerable apathy and condescension both at home and abroad.No post-colonial African state in the continent has attempted to develop a cultural or film policy that incorporates critical debates, political and the poetic, since former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor's 1960s attempt with his idea of "Negritude".With funding intertwined in various governmental departments and international development resources, film-makers are often forced to avoid making films dealing with their immediate surroundings. Instead, they produce films that are neither critical of social problems and national politics nor entertaining.That said, digital storytelling has presented film-makers with essential tools to battle for the freedom to create and distribute their work.In the last 10 years, young Africans have brought amazing energy to drama by embracing digital technology and therefore producing work that has been able to reach its audience across multiple platforms providing film-makers the freedom to imagine and free from the global hegemony.

I'd say then that one good thing (although whether it's good or bad depends on your POV) are the multiple co-production markets that see countries outside of continental Africa (often Europe) offer platforms for African filmmakers to meet with and partner up with producers and financiers from non-African countries, freeing them up from having to rely on local/governmental money to get their films made. I suppose that could be what Mr Shiri means by "international development resources," but I don't want to assume.

And if they're free from local restrictions, then they can tell the stories about their immediate surroundings that they want to tell. I'm immediately thinking of Djo Munga's Viva Riva! - an unabashedly raw (especially in terms of violence and sex) depiction of the DRC that's unlike anything we'd seen before. That was a film made with international funding.

But, while I think the question about how *free* artists are can probably be asked about artists all over the world, and not just within Africa, you can and should read the responses from all the artists who participated in BBC Africa's survey HERE.

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3 Comments

  • Reinaldo | February 26, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    I think that Faraw! Mother of the Dunes, Mali, Nothing But The Truth, South Africa, No Time To Die, Ghana, Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story, Egypt and The Pirogue, Senegal to name some of the films distributed by ArtMattan Productions are a good example of the creativity, courage and know how of some African filmmakers. It's unfortunate to generalize the work of artists the way it's done with African filmmakers. Filmmakers have to deal with an incredible level of censorship all over the world the United States of America included.
    Some very good African films can be found at AfricanDiasporaDVD.com

  • ao | February 26, 2013 7:51 PM

    You are right Reinaldo. I certainly didn't mean to lump all African films and filmmakers into one basket. There are some wonderful African films out there and the one's you named certainly are very good.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is with digital filmmaking, alternative funding and the new digital distribution platforms, our filmmakers can reduce the cost of production and the need for outside funding and support. I believe the future is bright.

  • ao | February 26, 2013 4:05 PMReply

    Most African governments generally don't fund films and what if any money they contribute is usually a small percentage of costs. I think Keith was being diplomatic. The government money that primarily funds African films is European (government) development money. This money does have strings and has a huge influence over the subject matter of African films. Films funded by Europeans will generally have a formula that speaks to a European audience rather than an African one. Thus, you get the depressing films with everything awful in Africa. There's a mindset there. So many Continental born African filmmakers fall into what I call the "poor me Africa" films that are just depressing with no way forward, or some quaint village film. Seldom do any tell stories of the amazing energy, creativity and hope that is so much a part of everyday life on the Continent.

    I'm not saying that Africa doesn't have it's problems, but if 4 out of 5 films set in the US were depressing, how big of a US audience do you think US films would have? These films are being made for Europeans. It's their money, it's their audience and it's their films.

    This is why there is a question of the "freedom" of African artists.

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