A new year of film festivals begins later this month with the granddaddy of them all (here in the USA anyway) the Sundance Film Festival, opening its doors on January 22.
In February, however, in addition to the Pan African Film Festival that takes place in Los Angeles, CA, here in the USA, there will also be the Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), happening in Burkina Faso, West Africa – a festival that occurs only once every two years.
The festival has unveiled its lineup of “in competition” and “out of competition” films, which I just received, but haven’t unpacked completely yet. A total of 134 films are listed (shorts, features and documentaries), representing several countries across the continent. Many of the titles and filmmakers are unfamiliar to me; and, unfortunately, the festival doesn’t provide a guide of any sort. As you can see at the bottom of this post, just a list of the films, the names of the filmmakers and the countries they represent. No descriptions, synopses, or cast members of each film are included, nor are there any bios of the filmmakers. So this obviously means that I’ll have to rely on Google search to dig up as much as I can on each, so that I can highlight individual films over the next few weeks, before the festival actually begins.
The twenty fourth (24th) edition of the Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) will run from February 28 to March 7, 2015, with “African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era” as this edition’s theme.
It’s a major continental Africa film festival, although one that’s also routinely been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism from attendees; something that’s been well-documented on this blog in past years, so I won’t rehash.
In short, criticism has generally centered around matters of infrastructure, organization, focus/emphasis, and opportunity.
Although after the previous installment of the festival (2013), organizers announced that a few changes would be introduced ahead of this year’s event. Specifically, filmmakers criticized the festival’s strict 35MM screening print requirement for films that compete for its Étalon de Yennenga prizes (the main competition awards), to which the festival announced that, beginning during its next event, this 2015 24th edition, the official competition will be open to, not only films shot and presented in digital format, but also non-African films of the diaspora.
To the first point, in short, up until that 2013 announcement, only films that could be screened via a 35MM print were eligible to compete for the Étalon de Yennenga (Stallion of Yennenga) awards – the top film prizes at the festival, akin to the Grand Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Films shot on and available to screen only in a digital format, were placed in their own separate category, and were not allowed to compete for the main competition prizes.
And as for the new inclusion of non-African films of the diaspora, again, until the 2013 announcement, non-African films of the diaspora were accepted, but relegated to their own separate category called “Films Of The Diaspora.” They also weren’t eligible to compete for the main Stallion awards.
One long-standing concern here (previously addressed by the Director General of the festival – Michel Ouedraogo) has been whether the inclusion of films from outside of Africa (although part of the diaspora, like black American cinema) might actually displace African cinema, since there’s a gap (financial, technological, overall filmic experience) between filmmakers from a poorer country like say Chad, and those from the USA. A question previously posed is whether there should remain a distinction between African films, and films from outside Africa, instead of having them compete against each other; essentially a way to *defend* African cinema, we could say.
But all of that will change beginning with this year’s festival, which should be music to the ears of many filmmakers. I’m looking forward to seeing what the overall impact on the festival will be.
Other changes announced for 2015 include the doubling of the Stallion award cash prizes: the Bronze Stallion will increase from 2.5 million CFA to 5 million CFA (or about $10,000); the Silver Stallion will increase from 5 million CFA to 10 million CFA (or about $20,000); and the Golden Stallion will increase from 10 million CFA to 20 million CFA (or about $40,000).
Nice chunk of change there!
Now if only some of that available cash will also be invested in a new FESPACO website, as well as a Twitter and Facebook presence, all before the 2015 festival next month.
If you are going, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All the registration forms and regulations related to the participation in the 24th edition of the FESPACO are available and can be checked and downloaded at: www.fespaco.bf.