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Cinema of Burkina Faso

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 1, 2009 01:27pm | Post a Comment
Sindou Peaks in Burkina Faso

Background on Burkina Faso

What is now Burkina Faso has been continuously inhabited for at least 14,000 years. The main indigenous population of this Sahelian region were the Yonyonse, who remained for thousands of years until they were displaced by the Mossi people of what is now Ghana only a thousand years ago. The Mossi established several kingdoms; the first, Tenkodogo, was founded in 1120 and ruled by Naaba. The Dogon, who'd inhabited areas in the north, left between the 15th and 16h centuries. Two more Mossi Kingdoms followed and dominated the area for about 800 years until 1896 when France invaded and established a colonial occupation. Upper Volta, as it was then known, gained independence from the French in 1960. As is the case with most post-Colonial countries, the years since have been dominated by dictatorships, wars and coups.

Street scene in Ouagadougou

Yet despite being plagued by poverty, unemployment and strife, Burkina Faso inarguably has one of West Africa's most vibrant cultures. Literature, primarily transmitted orally until collected in the 1930s, has long been a central part of Burkina Faso's culture. A strong theater tradition owing to both Burkinabé traditions and French influences has also been a major aspect of Burkinabé's cultural life. With over 60 ethnic groups, no one sort of music has yet dominated Burkina Faso's musical scene, although American and European pop are the most popular. Since 1969, Burkina Faso has been one of, if not the, dominant powers in Africa's film industry.

Two Burkinabe girls checking out a movie poster
 
History of film in Burkina Faso
Although Burkina Faso’s film output is relatively small, their role in African film is large and they’re arguably central to the West African Film Industry. Burkina Faso are co-hosts of the Pan-African FESPACO film festival (alternating with Tunisia), which largely determines the few African movies that get distributed in the US and released on DVD. Even before Burkina Faso had produced any films, the status-conferring festival was established in Ougadougou in 1969.

 

Although many Americans have recently become aware of the popular Nollywood scene in Nigeria, FESPACO (and by extension the Burkina Faso film community) has shut out West African neighbor Nigeria’s prolific output of movies on the basis that that they aren’t “films” since they're shot on video. However, as more and more quality films are made on video, that argument holds less water. The real reason that Nollywood films aren't shown at FESPACO is because they're about as arty as an episode of Martin shot by public access crew. Even Nollywood fans wouldn't generally argue that they're great films, merely enjoyable star vehicles. At the last FESPACO, however, the Étalon de Yenenga did go to a Nigerian filmmaker, Newton Aduaka for Ezra. Judging from the trailer above, it's neither Nollywood nor typically arty FESPACO fare and perhaps a bit of a concession to the growing power of Lagos's film industry.
 
FESPACO

Despite the fact that most westerners assume that most Africans live in huts on a savannah, fighting over millet tossed from a UN aid truck, Burkina Faso has technologically modern film production and distribution facilities. In fact, they're probably the most advanced on the continent, with the likely exception of South Africa. But whereas South Africa tends to churn out glossy, soulless product that’s often aimed at nondiscriminating audiences such as Stander and Critical Assignment, or alternately, Western festival-baiting/liberal guilt-assuaging "poverty porn" like Wooden Camera or Tsotsi, Burkina Faso’s film industry remains steadfastly disinterested in commercial or Western trends.

Heavily indebted to Soviet technique, Burkinabe films tend be highly visual, thoughtful, formalistic and didactic. Some critics argue that, though targeted toward Pan-African audiences, they're only enjoyed by a small group of intellectuals, the implication being that African audiences are too simple to enjoy them, I guess. If they are targeted at all toward Western audiences, they're largely unsuccesful since African art films are almost impossible to see in the western hemisphere. It seems unlikely that, with little potential to reach audiences outside of Africa, African directors would cater their films to the tastes of outsiders.

At Los Angeles's Pan-African Film Festival, the program directors have used the "African diaspora" umbrella to move away from actual African films and toward "African"-American (and British) romcoms and thrillers, at the complete exclusion of actual African directors. Last year's PAFF, for example, featured not one African feature film. Even DVD companies that specialize in arthouse and foreign films usually ignore the dark conintent. The highly regarded Criterion label seems to have a strict policy of not releasing African films, in fact, since their catalog includes multiple works from every other inhabited continent, but not one African film. It's a shame. Having bred a large following of indiscriminate pretentious consumers willing to buy anything they release, they could use their power to shed light on the world's most ignored cinematic treasures. How an acclaimed director like Med Hondo can have a directorial career that spans 42 years and not one film available in America on DVD whilst Criterion releases Chasing Amy and Armageddon is frankly beyond me. I did write to them several years ago to ask but they still haven't replied. They can argue in Armageddon's defense all they want but that movie was like watching a four-year-old play with action figures for three hours, only slightly more nonsensical.
 
Children watching a movie in Ouagadougou

Burkinabe directors
Burkinabé cinema began with Mamadou Djim Kola (born 1940), who directed Le conflit (1972), Le Sang des parias (1972), Cissin... cinq ans plus tard (1976) and Kognini y Toungan, les étrangers (1992). He studied in film in Paris and, back in Burkina Faso, he served as president of L'association Nationale de realisateurs de cine de Burkina Faso between 1980 and 1987. Unfortunately, none of his films have been released in the US.

Gaston Kabore
 Gaston Kaboré

Gaston Kaboré (born 1951 in Bobo-Dioulasso) is probably the most internationally well-known and highly regarded Burkinabé film director. Originally, he studied history at the Sorbonne, focusing on the history of Colonial racism. His studies led him to examine the way stereotypes are propagated in film and he attended film school after getting his Master’s in history. After receiving his degree in Film Production in 1976, he returned to Burkina Faso where he became the director of the Centre Natinal du Cinéma.

                      Wend Kuuni Lumiere & Company DVD

His debut, Wend Kuuni (1982), was only the second Burkinabé feature. It was put released, like most African films, by the no-frills Kino label. I was once asked by a random customer if I'd seen it. I said, "yes" and he pointed out Rosine Yangolo (Pongere). Pretty obscure "celebrity" sighting, eh?


 

In 1997, Kaboré won first prize at FESPACO for Buud Yam -- the same year he ended his twelve year term as Secretary-Genaral of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers. He’s also directed Zan Boko (1988), Rabi (1992), a segment in Lumière and Company (1995).

Idrissa Ouedraogo

Idrissa Ouedraogo
was born 1954 in Banfora and is, perhaps, the most prolific Burkinabé director. He's earned awards in many film festivals. He graduated from Institut Africain d’Etudes Cinématographiques in Ougadougou.


 

In 1981, working for Direction de la Production Cinématographique du Burkina Faso he made several shorts: Pourquoi? (1981), Poko (1981), Les Écuelles (1983), Les Funérailles du Larle Naba (1984), Ouagadougou, Ouaga deux roues (1985), Issa le tisserand (1985) followed by a feature, Yam Daabo (1986).

 
Tilai Yaaba 11'09''01 September 11

After studying in the USSR and Paris, he returned to Burkina Faso. He directed Yaaba (1989) and Tilaï (1990). I found the latter (released by New Yorker Films) rather formulaic and perhaps one of the better examples of a film seemingly crafted to appeal to western notions about what West African cinema is... as small of a group as that might be. But then again, it won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, so arty Francophiles are included, I guess.

Ouedraogo's made a slew of features, shorts and television programs since, including: Obi (1991), A Karim na Sala (1991), Samba Traoré (1993), Cri du cœur (1994), Gorki (1994), Afrique, mon Afrique (1994), a segment of Lumière et compagnie (1995), Kini and Adams (1997), Les Parias du cinémas (1997), Entre l'arbre et l'écorce (1999), Scenarios from the Sahel (2001), Kadi Jolie (2001), a segment of 11'09''01 September 11 (2002), La Colère des dieux (2003) and Kato Kato (2006).

Sarah Bouyain
 
Sarah Bouyain was born in 1968. Obviously, that's her on the left, then. She has directed two films so far, Niararaye (1997) and Les enfants du Blanc (2000).

Fanta Régina Nacro Night of Truth DVD

Fanta Régina Nacro
was born 1962 and received her film education at INAFEC and the Sorbonne.



She made her debut, a short film, Un Certain Matin in 1992. Since then she’s made many shorts: Un Certain Matin (1991), L'Ecole au coeur de la vie (1993), Puk Nini (1995), Femmes capables (1997), La Tortue du Monde (1997), Le Truc de Konaté (1988), Florence Barrigha (1999), Relou (2000), Laafi Bala (2000), La bague aux doigt (2001), Une volonté de fer (2001), La voix de la raison (2001), Bintou (2001), En parler ça aide (2002), Vivre positivement (2003) Her feature debut is La Nuit de la vérité (2004) and is available on DVD through First Run Features, who've released several African films on DVD.




Adama Roamba
 Adama Roamba, director of Garba (1998)
Pierre Yameogo

S. Pierre Yamégo has directed two films so far, Silmande Tourbillon (1998) and Delwende, lève-toi e marche (2005).

Drissa Toure            Sia

I love that Drissa Toure is rocking what looks like old time prison garb. His only film so far, Haramuya (1995), is available on a double feature with a Malian film, released by Facets, yet another small label who puts the bourgeois-favored Criterion to shame.


Daniel Kollo Sanou
's Tasuma (2003) and Dani Kouyaté's Sia, le rêve du python (2001) are also availble from Facets on a Burkinabé double feature.


With Burkinabé films being made by numerous directors and film crews, it's difficult to effectively characterize its film language. Since there are so many languages spoken in Africa, it tends to rely heavily on visual techniques developed in the silent era -- relying less on dialog which, even if subtitled, would still only reach those literate in the chosen language. Burkinabé films also tend to eschew western devices like calendar sheets blowing to suggest the passage of time or scrolling computer letters to notify the viewer of the setting, instead prefering to make their points more subtly and assuming that the viewer is intelligent enough to get it. This can be jarring to audiences used to the kid-gloved/heavy handed treatment they're used to, even mistakently being viewed as a defect by some who assume it's the result of incompetence. This isn't the case. Burkinabé's other main influence is the French New Wave, whose spirit of cinematic deconstruction is evident as well in its thorough, considered approach to cinematic language. So, put back your French/Italian/Japanese film. It'll be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. But if you pass on that Burkinabé film, you've probably missed your only chance at enjoying something completely different.

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Black History Month (122), West Africa (7), African Cinema (10), African Film (5), West Africa (7), Mossi (1), Africa (13), Sahel (1), African Movies (2), Fespaco (2), Directors (8), Burkina Faso (1)