FESPACO is the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. As the name suggests, the festival is held biennially in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina. It attracts filmmakers and film lovers from all corners of the world. During FESPACO, movies compete and the overall prize is the Golden Stallion of Yennega. It is a time for friendships, partnerships and business relationships to be struck. The festival is incontestably one of the joys and prides of the country of the upright man.
FESPACO was conceived during the years that followed “decolonization” in Africa, and the late Sembène Ousmane, the Senegalese writer and filmmaker and Alimata Salembéré, the Burkinabè minister for Culture from 1987 to 1991 are some of its founders. On several occasions, Sembène chaired the committee that selected the award-winning movies. The films in competition are made in Africa and by African directors but, gradually, it grew in include films from the Black diaspora. The tradition was to host the festival every other year in March, exactly two weeks after the last Saturday of February. Most of the time, the opening takes place at the Stade du 4 Août, the national stadium. The aim of the festival is to give the opportunity to African and Black filmmakers of the diaspora to establish collaborations, exchange ideas, and, of course, to promote their works. Officially, its aim is to “contribute to the expansion and development of African cinema as a means of expression, education, and awareness-raising”. It was initially called the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. In 1972, at the third edition, the festival was re-baptized as FESPACO, a name that grabs the full dimension and goal of the festival. It is without any doubt Africa’s largest film festival today.
The 27th edition within considerable challenges
After the initial dates were changed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, FESPACO finally kicked off on 16 October and will end on 23 October. This year’s opening ceremony took place at the Palais des Sports complex of Ouaga 2000 district in Ouagadougou. Nothing could stop the Burkinabè public and the residents of Ouagadougou, in particular, who are very excited and patronize the various spots where the movies are shown. Some of them painted their bodies with the colours of the Burkinabè national flag. The main difficulties are the security threat caused by Jihadist attacks and the pandemic. Mr Alex Moussa Sawadogo, the Fespaco delegate general, reassured everybody when he said that very reliable security measures and sanitary precautions had been put in place. The Minister for Culture also had such reassuring words for all the participants. President Roch Marc Koaboré, the minister of foreign affairs and ambassadors graced the opening with their presence. FESPACO now attracts people from all across the world.
Films in Competition this Year and Previous Award Winners
A total of 1,132 movies were submitted and ultimately 239 from 39 countries were shortlisted and classified in six categories. At the end, only 17 feature-length films will compete for the grand prize. Film directors are from the following countries: Egypt, Angola, Burkina, Cameroon, Chad and Haiti, to list just a few. This year, the selection committee is headed by the Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako. Other awards at the festival are the Oumarou Ganda Prize which goes to the best first film of a cinematographer and the Paul Robeson Prize is awarded to the best film by an African Diasporan director. Some films that won the Stallion of Yennega (year and nationality of the director are provided) are: Le wazzou polygame by the Oumarou Ganda (Niger 1972), Muna Moto by Dikongue Pipa (Cameroon 1976), Heritage… Africa Kwaw by Ansah (Ghana, 1989), Buud Yam by Gaston Kaboré (Burkina 1997), Drum by Zola Maseko (South Africa, 2005). Twilight City by Reece Auguiste (UK) won the Paul Roberson Prize in 1991, and Lumumba, la mort d’un prophète by Raoul Peck (Haiti) got the same prize in 1993. The last edition in 2021 awarded the Golden Stallion to The Mercy of the Jungle by Joel Karekezi (Rwanda). Other qualities that are rewarded at the festival are the best short film, the best actor, the best actress, best sound editing and best screen play, etc. All aspects of films are therefore meticulously scrutinized.
For a period of one week, Ouagadougou will be the Mecca of African and Black diasporan cinema, a reputation that it acquires every other year. Efforts are being made, towards the decentralization of the festival so that certain films can be shown in Bobo Dioulasso, which is also referred to as the city of Burkinabè culture. The beauty of it all is that the year following every edition of Fespaco, Ouagadougou hosts the largest artisanal event of Africa, SIAO.
Moussa Traoré is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.