FESPACO lowers festival entry numbers to drive quality

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The most coveted prizes in African cinema are up for grabs every two years, and will be awarded again at the end of Feb 2011. Fespaco, the biennial pan-African festival of film and television, will get under way from 26 February to 5 March 2011 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It says it has a new formula this time so Sylvain Béletre interviewed its organisers on what’s really different this year.

You can watch video extracts from the press conference which took place in Paris ahead of the event here (all in French)

It is quite a paradox that Ouagadougou, the “African Cannes”, is also the capital of one of the poorest countries in the world. But Burkina Faso – the land of honest people – is also one of the few African countries that support African film makers and audiovisual content diversity. FESPACO is important for African film professionals because it is the biggest and oldest cultural event on the African continent, and it is focused on African films and filmmakers. The event attracts visitors from across the globe. Launched in 1969 under the name "African Cinema Week" in Ouagadougou, Fespaco aims in particular to promote the distribution of film.

The festival is a public event held under the patronage of the Burkina Faso Minister of Culture, Tourism and Communication, Filippe Savadogo. Its main prize is "Étalon de Yennenga" (Stallion of Yennenga), named with reference to the legendary founder of the Mossi empire, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso. It is awarded to the African film that best shows "Africa's realities". Since ever 1972 when the competition was launched at FESPACO, the Yennenga Stallion worth 10,000,000 F CFA or approximatively 15,251 Euros was awarded to 17 films.

Other special awards include the Oumarou Ganda Prize, given for the best first film, and the Paul Robeson Prize for the best film by a director of the African diaspora.

In the fringes of the Festival, the African International Film and TV Market (MICA) has grown today into one of the largest pan-African Film trade markets, offering numerous meeting opportunities both with professional buyers and distributors. The market is a platform for African films as well as programmes about Africa. MICA has about 2,000 video cassettes in store, most of which are VHS. Films entered into the market are archived and presented in a catalogue in English and French, the festival's working languages.

As the festival became more prominent, its budget and sponsors increased; current  donor countries include Burkina Faso, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Republic of China, and the donor organizations include AIF(ACCT), UNDP, OIF, Stichting Doen, Prince Claus fund, UNESCO, UNICEF, European Union and Africalia.

“Burkina Faso has contributed to the event through a 500,000 FCFA investment, completed with security, location, logistic, ceremony and staff availability during the event. In overall, the Burkina Faso government provides 65-70% of the festival organisation.” said the managing director of Fespaco, Michel Ouédraogo.
 
So what’s really new this year? Michel Ouédraogo, outlined that this festival will consolidate what has been launched at the previous edition. Productions from twenty eight countries will be included in the selection. But several innovations will mark this edition:

- Associated with the official selections, four African film schools will discuss film production issues in Africa.

- The previous edition included 324 films; this year will refocused the event to 195 films only, in order to drive more quality. 475 films were originally received and viewed, but only 111 were retained in seven official sections, and 84 were selected for parallel sections. Ouédraogo noted the emergence of productions from Central and East Africa.

- Additionally, the organiser will host a special homage to great African film personalities that have recently passed away. Ten related films will be shown during the festival.

Dr. Stanislas Meda, member of the Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Culture  also said that there will be a special international jury to enlarge the event’s visibility and film qualification inputs and that the organisers have hired an artistic director to shape the programme content.

FESPACO is indirectly associated with the new African film fund which is currently being put in place. FESPACO’s team is still working on African film heritage through the “cinémathèque” it has set up in Ouagadougou.
Ouédraogo also mentioned that the organisers are “considering a stronger partnership with the first film industry in Africa, Nollywood; however, “Nollywood is still considered as quite controversial when it comes to quality and piracy” he noted.  Professor Elikia M'Bokolo, Congolese writer and historian will sponsor this 22nd Edition of the Festival.

FESPACO provides three main “accreditation” forms: one for cinema professionals (anyone specialized or involved in the movie-making industry), one for the press and one for festival-goers. Sadly, it will be radio silence from Ivory Coast: FESPACO will not present Ivorian films at the official selection this year.