"People grumble that as FESPACO has gotten bigger it has grown out of all proportion to the growth of African cinema," says June Givanni, the British Film Institute's chief African film programmer. "But it is a celebration, and I don't think those things are necessarily bad. The festival has the difficult task of balancing things, but you can still find the whole spectrum here, the edge and the passionate discussions with people not mincing words as well as the glitzy side."
What most African filmmakers wanted to talk about, however, was not FESPACO's flaws but the perennial twinned difficulties of first raising money to make a film and then, something that turns out to be even more difficult, finding a way to get it shown on the African continent.
One of the great paradoxes of African filmmaking is that, in Kabore's words: "Our films are strangers in their own territories. It is easier to watch an African film in New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris than in Lesotho, Botswana, Nigeria or Kenya. If audiences are given the opportunity to see them, they are rushing to go. African audiences are keen to watch movies where their reality is reflected. But our films are made outside of an economic system, we do not have producers or distributors with financial and economic clout, so our movies do not have the ability to circulate."
"90% of African Films Will Never Be Seen By Africans Themselves." So reads a flyer handed out by Daniel Cuxac, whose Ivory Coast-based DC Productions is one of the few companies attempting to put African films on video to increase their local availability. "After FESPACO the light will be off and we will find again the hard realities," he says. "After their films are shown in the festivals, the filmmakers stay in their houses, they don't know where to go." Language barriers, the expense of subtitles, the uncertainty of getting both money and films back from other countries, all contribute to the problem.
One potential way out of these difficulties, at least for the most prominent directors, is to get financing from European entities such as television networks. But taking this money, welcome as it is, can present a particular difficulty.
"When you write a script to please European producers, you take their expectations into consideration; if you are spending 10 million French francs, you are wondering what kind of results you will get in France," explains Kabore. "Our films can become unbalanced, we are so weak we are turning like this and like that. The danger is forgetting your own people, your own fundamental vision, and presenting Africa only as Europe is prepared to receive it. The danger is we will lose our souls."
One filmmaker who has made his peace with Europe to the point of dividing his time between homes in Ouaga and Paris is Idrissa Ouedraogo, at 40 considered to be the rising young star of African cinema. His first feature, "Yaaba," won the International Critics Prize at Cannes; his next, "Tilai," took that festival's Special Jury Prize and won the Etalon at FESPACO, and his third, "Samba Traore," was given the Silver Bear at Berlin.
A relaxed man with a kind of amiable swagger about him, Idrissa, as everyone calls him, says he works out of Europe out of hard necessity. "The gods don't love us here in Burkina; taking airplanes, making phone calls, everything is very difficult, very expensive," he says with a smile. "Here there are not so many opportunities to make films and to make contacts as in Europe."
Working in Europe, using non-African crews and non-African casts, has made Idrissa a controversial figure, something he easily shrugs off. "It is normal for people not to like me, because I can get financing outside of the traditional ways," he says. "All the people who speak about me, they can't do it. People speak about the imperialism of the American cinema. It is true, but there is a certain efficiency to American cinema that is a good thing, and we should try to have that as well."
More than anything, Idrissa wants his work to be seen not as African film but as simply film. "When I do some of these things, people say, 'Stop, you are becoming white,' but I think cinema has no color. When I use French actors in one of my films, people wanted to kill me, they said, 'It is not African cinema.'
"But to me African cinema is a ghetto. When people think of African films, they want to see huts, they won't let Africans show something different. But Africa is not one country, it is a continent, and filmmakers are not alike, we are not the same. Even two American filmmakers do not have the same sensibility. Filmmaking is the personal thing you give to the world. You don't give your country or your continent, you give yourself."