Saturday, March 03, 2007

It’s the last day of FESPACO today. About time. I have already admitted in this blog that I am a hermit. Did I mention that I’m grouchy, too? And nothing brings on a bout of crabbiness quicker than the FESPACO film festival, the supposed Jewel of African Cinema. Bah humbug..
As I checked on Google for a link for this post, I came up with results from other blogs that had phrases like ”…of course, I have always dreamed of going to Ouagadougou for FESPACO!!!” I, on the other hand, have lived here for almost eight years and have never gone to a single film. Not one. The first few years, I was tempted, but I was much too busy. Papiers du Sahel always had a sales stand in the artisans’ market set up especially for FESPACO. I spent eight or more hours each day at the main festival site and afterward just wanted to go home and rest! But while I worked the stand, I’d chat with the customers- people who had come from all over the world to participate in this event. There were people that showed up for a four film session, but only two were shown. The other films never arrived. And there were people that waited hours to see a film, being told every half hour “It’s coming! Don’t give up!”. Of course, it never came. I heard lots of stories…..

Add to that the fact that even after running this festival for 20 years, there are never enough schedules. Ever. They have come up with brilliant solutions, though, like handwriting it on a big sheet of paper and posting it on the street corner near La Surface supermarket, miles away form any FESPACO film site. By the time the event began this year, they did get a schedule up on their website. But of course, not many of the tourists know about it or have internet access. So you see them (and there are a LOT of them) haplessly wandering, their noses buried in their huge “Guide to West Africa” travel books. Their khaki shorts and huge sunhats are also a dead giveaway. None of us “local” foreigners would be caught dead in a sunhat. Yes, they are practical, but you look like a geek. The Burkinabé sure as hell never wear them.

Of course, the poor tourists are also invariably followed by a huge entourage of local vendors trying to force them buy djembés and toy bicycles made out of old bug spray cans. “Maybe this foreigner doesn’t want a toy bicycle right now…. But if I wave one in his face every three minutes, he might discover a hidden, burning desire to own one. Or possibly two!!!” And their success at bullying the tourists just makes them harder for the rest of us to deal with. During the rest of the year, vendors can be discouraged with just a friendly comment along the lines of “Not today. Maybe another time. Good luck.” But FESPACO time means long explanations and a firm tone of voice. “I’m not a tourist. I’ve lived here for eight years. I have everything: sardine can thumb pianos, bogolan tablecloths, djembes… We have 4 djembes at home! Really!”
And there’s this: most of the time, there’s not all that much to do in Ouaga. Yes, I know. I make this place sound like the Fun Capitol of West Africa in my blog. But really, it’s a little dull. But then when there finally is something to see, it floods with tourists and you can’t even get tickets to many of the good events. So, I have decided to stay away and let the tourists enjoy their films and buy their knick knacks.
Not that I would probably enjoy the films anyway. Frankly, most Burkinabé films are very depressing. Take Indian cinema: in general it’s very escapist, entertaining, colourful and very, very popular. My pal, K. who lived for years in India, has told me how practically everyone there loves to go to the cinema. It is their main form of escape from the drudgery of daily life. Kind of like the USA during the Depression.
Then there’s Ouaga: the movie theatres here are CLOSING! That’s right. In the showcase city of African cinema, people aren’t going to the movies and theatres are going out of business. It was hard to find enough places to show the festival films this year. Many of them are being shown outdoors, on the lawns of local hotels and parks.
Why don’t the Burkinabé go to films here? Well, the films made by Burkinabé directors tend to be gritty, realistic stories of village life. Very authentic. Very depressing. Many of them are almost like a documentary, such as the one that shows the hard life of a goldminer here. But these kinds of films do not interest the average Burkinabé filmgoer. At all. So, why make them? Here’s my theory: They make them to suck up to the European cinema world, that’s why. Their goal is not to make films to appeal to the Burkinabé public. Their films are carefully aimed at the (predominantly white) people that give out prizes and make it possible to get the hell out of Burkina Faso. And what do these white folks want to see? The real Africa of masks, excision, poverty, dust, villages……and, to be fair, Burkina is all those things. The problem is that because the Burkinabé actually live all that, they’d like to see something a little different. And not kung fu movies or the latest Hollywood car-crash crap. They like humour, music and magic, not earnest, dreary depressing films about being poor.
So, that’s really my main problem with the film festival. I feel that it’s actually poisoned the development of cinema here. There are local tv shows that are funny and clever and have large local audiences. But the world of film is crippled by “Fespaco-itis”: the strong tendency to pander to the expectations and tastes of the European audience.

2 comments:

lu said...

yes, sat through some of those depressing burkinabe films (dusty, long, sad, tragic...). but i'll never forget the showing at one of our film festivals here, it was a series of shorts from different african countries. lots of artsy fartsy, some national geographic. but the one that got the whole audience rolling in the aisles was the film of the man and woman who taped their bed down the middle during an argument that reached ridiculous proportions. ack, i forget the name of the film, but when the credits rolled, sure enough, the funny one was from burkina!! and everyone loved it! then there are the short clips done by youth to promote HIV awareness (Scenarios d'afrique). the burkinabe clips in the project are surprisingly good and undepressing (considering the subject matter). i have seen Une Volonte de Fer a few times and i laugh everytime i watch it. i guess what i'm saying is, there is hope yet - and a quirky sense of burkinabe humour just waiting to get on the big screen.
ps. how did your new papiers kiosque do at FESPACO?

BurkinaMom said...

Thanks for the well-thought out, relevant comments. I can always count on you, lu. I won't give up hope.
Papiers did GREAT at FESPACO! Luckily, many tourists had the discernment to appreciate our project and BUY stuff!