From late February to early March, in Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso, there was the week-long Africa’s largest film festival FESPACO. In fact, FESPACO was launched in 1969. This festival provided some kind of entertainment, but the most important aspect was the platform created show screening different films with diverse themes. The competition was very keen with rewards for winners delivering excellent results.
Wolfram Vetter, the European Union ambassador in Burkina Faso, called the film festival “an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in Burkina Faso and beyond.” The EU was the event’s largest funder after the Burkinabe government, and has contributed approximately €250,000, equivalent of ($265,000).
Records showed that there were more than 15,000 people, including cinema celebrities from African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, and from abroad including France and the United States. Some 1,300 films were submitted for consideration and 100 selected to compete from 35 African countries and the diaspora, including movies from Dominican Republic and Haiti. Nearly half of those in the fiction competition this year were directed by women.
Among them was Burkinabe director and producer Apolline Traore, whose film “Sira” – considered a front-runner in this year’s competition – emblematic of many Burkinabes’ suffering. It tells the tale of a woman’s struggle for survival after being kidnapped by jihadis in the Sahel, as her fiancé tries to find her.
An interesting film, “Cuba in Africa” has received a warm, emotional response all over the world. Most people never heard of this story. Screening this film, people were touched by the altruism of Cubans who sacrificed their sons and daughters on behalf of Africa.
Negash Abdurahman, producer of Cuba in Africa, told us that his film has won the Thomas Sankara Prize. Abdurahman is an Ethiopian-American filmmaker and an educational technology specialist. He is also the Founder of RI Systems Inc.
His award-winning film Cuba in Africa was years in the making, overcoming many challenges. Cuba in Africa tells the story of Cuban volunteers who gave everything to win the independence of Angola, Namibia and contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
Abdurahman spoke briefly with us from Ouagadougou. Here are the interview excerpts:
How would you interpret the film festival that took place in Burkina Faso? What are the key features during this gathering?
Abdurahman: FESPACO is the biggest, oldest and most prestigious film festival in Africa. FESPACO is the French acronym for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougu. The 28th edition of FESPACO took place from February 24 to March 5 in Ouagadougu, the capital city of Burkina Faso.
The festival opened with much fanfare and cultural pageantry. The heads of state of both Burkina Faso and Mali attended the opening ceremonies. For me, one of the emotional moments of the opening ceremonies was Sidiki Diabate of Mali playing the mesmerizing Kora, a traditional string instrument of several West African countries.
In your critical assessment, what were some of the messages translated to the audience there? Are these related to the Africa’s political culture, traditions and history?
Abdurahman: FESPACO celebrates African cinema and tells African stories through the eyes of Africans. This was very clear at this year’s festival as well. This year’s theme was “African Cinema and Culture of Peace.”
Before the festival, there was much tension because of the conflict going on in the northern part of Burkina Faso. Some people feared that it might not even be held at all. Playing on this fear, according to a few Burkinabe I spoke to, the French threatened not to protect the festival if they did not get their way.
French troops did, in fact, depart a few days before the opening of the festival. Fortunately, the Burkinabe were able to provide their own protection. The festival and all associated music and cultural celebrations concluded without a hitch.
What place was the film “Cuba in Africa” in the festival? What other films have similar themes to this film during the demonstration (show) in Burkina Faso?
Abdurahman: My film, Cuba in Africa, was an official selection in the short documentary category. Cuba was the only country in history that came to Africa’s aid without expecting anything in return. An Island nation of roughly 8 million people at the time, sent over 400,000 people – military as well as civilians – to help Africans in their fight for freedom.
This was unprecedented. I am honored to report that we won the much-coveted Thomas Sankara Prize. You can watch a two-minutes trailer for Cuba in Africa at http://www.cubainafrica.com
How was the final conclusion, in spite of the challenges and setbacks, of the festival?
Abdurahman: The best films won trophies and monetary awards in their respective categories. The mood was celebratory. FESPACO is a truly African institution with its own warm, unique characteristics.