Film festivals in Burkina Faso, the legacy of colonialism and why there’s no one Africa

Burkina Faso - Les Pionniers de la révolution

Listening to Monocle24’s excellent Aperitivo podcast this morning, I came across a segment on a film festival in Burkina Faso, Fespaco, which is the subject of a recent documentary by filmmaker Dave Calhoun. Fespaco is the biggest film festival in Africa, but remains very unknown in the rest of the world.

The segment was interesting from a number of aspects. First, we’re always hoping that cinema will become more global, and that films made outside of Hollywood and from smaller countries will have a chance to make a splash on the global market. There has been numerous false starts. At times it seems that Asian cinema, e.g. Taiwanese, would get its global breakthrough, and even Scandinavian cinema has had a renaissance lately on the back of strong interest in its noir sensibilities expressed in books and TV series. But African cinema remains very unknown. To hear that Ouagadougou every two years becomes the capital of African cinema, showing more than 100 films from across Africa, is encouraging.

Perhaps global cinema is finally having its moment? All forms of other cultural artefacts that would have been deemed too local to make it a few years ago can now grab a global audience. Just ask Psy.

Looking at the media landscape, we are indeed seeing new media outlets coming out that provides perspectives that are not only global, but try to be local, globally, i.e. highlight small local events in less-reported countries. Ethan Zuckermann’s Global Voices is a good example.

Another very interesting thing that came out of the interview with Calhoun in the podcast is the difference in cinema between the former French colonies and the former English colonies. Apparently, the former English colonies have a much smaller cinema scene, or take after Hollywood. Nigeria with its Nollywood has a production that almost rivals that of Bollywood, with a lot of low-budget, straight-to-DVD, action movies. The former French colonies on the other hand produce more arthouse films (apparently Fespaco still requires movies to be shot on 35 mm film instead of digital!), that are supported by the French studios and French government art support.

It’s fascinating to see how deep the colonial influences run. Simon Kuper was recently discussing how there’s no one Africa, but very distinct Francophone and Anglophone Africas. The British colonies might be more represented in the next set of African frontier markets (e.g. Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya), but the French clearly left other important aspects. The best French food I’ve ever had was in Luang Prabang, Laos. Not to mention the baguettes in Hanoi. However, it must kill the French that the African fashion capital ended up in Lagos rather than in a Francophone city.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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