I am lucky to be in Ouagadougou during one of its most significant cultural events – the FESPACO. It’s a biannual Pan-African film festival to which directors from all over the continent come with their latest and greatest movie achievements to compete for the golden stallion. For the inhabitants of Ouaga – cineastes or not – it’s a great festivity with loads of people coming to town and uncountable side events. Last Saturday was the grand inauguration at the Stade du peuple. I went with my colleague Moumouna. Because a lot of people were expected to come, we went well ahead of time. In January 2016 there was a terrorist attack at a hotel and a restaurant in Central Ouagadougou that left about twenty people dead. It has caused a lot of fear for more of the like, and security at public events is rigorous. This was no exception, and this time they wouldn’t even let the people who walk around selling refreshments and snacks in. Usually you’re never more than a few meters from a person who can resupply you in gum, napkins, cell phone recharges, fruit and, for some reason I haven’t figured out yet, washing detergent.
After a good hour of impatient waiting in the sun, the ceremony started. It contained a great mix of performances. Traditional music, acrobatics, dancing and men dressed as warriors riding horses on one hand. Modern music, speeches and a stand up comedian on the other. The Ivory Coast is this year’s special invitee country of the festival. They had a large delegation and one of their ministers made a speech. The Ivory Coast also provided what seemed to be the highlight of the inauguration for many of the visitors, the concert with the reggae artist Alpha Blondy. Judging by how well the Burkinabe knew the lyrics and from what I’ve read about him, he seems to be a living legend in West Africa. Some of his music is political and refers very directly (and critically) to political events such as the assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo. The Zongo event and Thomas Sankara are probably on the Burkinabe popular references toplist, so I will have to get back to them in future posts. However, there was also a short stage appearance of Burkinabe rapper Smockey, who was very active in the insurrection movement that overthrew the ex-president Blaise Compaoré.
On Sunday I first went to see my friend Yaya who is a volunteer at the Fespaco headquarters and we had lunch with his colleagues. There is no cinema there but a kind of fair with lots of restaurants and handicraft shops. After some fries and some well needed cold drinks I walked over to one of the venues, the Ciné Burkina, located in the most central part of town. I wanted to see a movie called Frontières. It’s one of the Burkinabe movies that’s expected to go far this year. It tells the story of a group of women travelling from Bamako in Mali to Abdijan in Ivory Coast, and what they experience along the way.
Unfortunately, I was far from the only one who had came to see it. In fact, I was so far from being the only one that the cinema got full just before I was going to get in. Although fortunately, most of the movies can be seen on several occasions. Hanging around in the lobby, waiting for the next show, I was invited to share a Brakina (Burkina’s number one beer) by a French guy who was covering the festival for Canal+ Africa. He and his team had gotten in among the last ones to see the movie, but he didn’t feel like standing up for almost two hours, so he left. After another hour the next round of movies were starting and I chose rather randomly to see a movie from Tanzania called Aïsha. A great thing about going to the movies here is that before the movie starts there’s live music in the auditorium, usually traditional Burkinabe music. If I was in a good mood and full of expectations when the movie started, that would soon change. The movie told a dreadful story of a Tanzanian woman getting raped and how she was stigmatized while trying to get her perpetrators judged. The end titles announced that the movie was part of an initiative to sensitize people about rape being a huge problem in many African countries, and that only a few percent of rapes committed ever see a perpetrator facing any punishment.
Monday was my second attempt to see Frontières. This time at the French Institute, which I had no idea was such a huge institution in this city. It has a restaurant, libraries, two movie theaters, a language learning centre and more. When we got there, a good half hour before the movie would start, the line was already making its way half way around the inner yard. After 45 minutes of standing in line, and with only a few people in front of us, a woman from the institute announced that the movie theatre was “full to the point of busting”. Many things are negotiable here. This apparently wasn’t. So we waited for the next show: A Malian movie called Wulu. Having learned from the experience, we only spent a little time at one of the nearby festival areas watching a group of girls playing reggae music, before getting back in line. This time we got in.
Once again, the open air auditorium was full to the point of leaving no chair empty. Wulu tells the story of a Malian man in his twenties working on a long-haul mini bus across the country. When his chances of advancing in the business are eliminated by the son of the boss, he decides to start smuggling drugs for a living. He starts earning a lot of money, helps his sister out of prostitution and buy them a house to live in. And then about one hour into the movie, there’s a power cut. In real life now, not in the movie. No one was surprised, as this happens on a daily basis in Burkina Faso. Everyone was confident the institute had some backup solution, which was confirmed by the lights that were turned on after a few seconds of darkness. A few minutes went by. People started wondering what was going on. After a while the woman from the French institute addressed the crowd. She explained that it wasn’t technically possible to fast forward the movie to where we had stopped watching. Instead they would have to start it over from the beginning. Needless to say, people were less than satisfied by the message. About twenty people went up to the projector to check with the technicians if what she said could actually be true. We stayed another ten minutes to see if somehow it would be resolved. When it wasn’t, we left. As did about 80 percent of the crowd. Some day, I’ll download Wulu and find out what happened to the up and coming drug smuggler.