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Memoirs of Ouaga


The week is over, the oasis of African cinema is about to disappear like a mirage into the Burkinabe desert. But what a week it has been.

Farai Sevenzo
Farai Sevenzo

These gatherings are all the same; many creative egos in one space.

The 4th of August stadium had been packed to capacity (40,000) at the opening ceremony for Fespaco, but on this sultry Burkinabe evening, only the filmmakers were dressed for the occasion.

Many in “Boubous” of dazzling colour and texture, others in sunglasses and sombre black suits.

And then there was the media, the press pack, the hounds of Ouaga.

But in the stands, emptiness. It's Saturday and awards ceremonies for cinema are for the cineastes.

The business of reporting for radio is a physical one too.



You want to plan how you are going to negotiate this microphone into that man's face, is there a gap in the security cordon, can I escape the detectives with their earpieces, find a gap in the security pack and reach the red carpet where a winner may give me a few words of how they feel.

10 million CFA is a lot of money, and that's what comes with the Golden Yenenga Stallion
Farai Sevenzo

Those protecting the man from whatever he might need protection from tried to make sure that no-one abused the red carpet by walking on it before people of higher prominence had done so in the intended order.

Still there was an atmosphere.

Earlier at lunch I went to three potential winners and lied to each that my contacts had seen the final list of winners - 10 million CFA is a lot of money, and that's what comes with the Golden Yenenga Stallion.

Teddy Matera (Max and Mona) said “Go away you're making me nervous”.

Zola Maseko (Drum) laughed and said "Inshalla".

Zeze Gamboa (O Heroi) said "I hope so." and we recorded the moments of their nerves.

Distracting influences


There have been many distractions here at the Hotel Independence.

On Friday there was a fashion show by the poolside, there were many more documentaries and films to see.

In the 10 days the BBC team have been here, there have been so many conversations, so many films and the real feeling that this was a hive of creative energies.

Abderrahman Sissako
Abderrahman Sissako

The cinemas were full of ordinary Burkinabes spoilt for choice when it came to seeing black images on screen and meandering along many African imaginations.

It is easy to see in the dust of Ouagadougou many things which will make the memory of this time here seem like looking at this Fespaco with rose-tinted shades.

Abderrahman Sissako is a filmmaker with breath-taking command of this visual form. His images are awesome, his stories offbeat.

His film, Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness) won the top prize in 2003.

We sat for lunch at the Hotel Independence's Tan-Bo and the Mauritanian /Malian auteur reflected on the changing nature of Fespaco.

"We all come here, every other year because this festival is far too important to be controlled by any one group. It is a pan - African festival, the only one of its kind. And for too long, there was too much Francophone influence."

It is important to keep our stories here. We cannot be in a position to choose a hospital over a cinema, because culture too is important
Abderrahman Sissako

Does that mean a non-Francophone film will win? Why not he says, “It is important to accept the new filmmakers”.

The maths says if four South African films are in competition, then one of them has to win."

Celebrating Africa


Sissako is a director in demand, spending his time in Paris and Bamako, but he refuses to head for Hollywood, no matter the temptation.

"It is not me, why should I go there? It is important to keep our stories here. We cannot be in a position to choose a hospital over a cinema, because culture too is important."

Back to the awards ceremony and standing by the red carpet, a few yards away from the brothers with their earplugs so full of potential threats, I saw Ramadan Suleiman walking the red carpet to pick up his European Union Award and 5million CFA for "Zulu Love Letter".

Ramadan Suleman
Ramadan Suleman

I went over and the man was speechless.

So after all the crafty negotiating past the suits, I found myself being gently prodded back with a baton.

When Zola Maseko was announced as the winner of Fespaco 2005 best film award, the suits seemed irrelevant.

I walked to the red carpet and embraced my friend. This is one of those places where the stories on death and disaster rightly take a back seat.

No doubt you will learn that Burkina Faso does not have electricity nationwide, but it has cinemas, and a passionate love for African film too.

Hospitals or Cinemas? It is a tough choice, but they are as important as each other.

I head for London tomorrow, then I must get back here and make a film.
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