OUAGADOUGOU – Africa's largest film festival kicks off Saturday in Burkina Faso amid both the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing jihadi insurgency in the West African nation that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million in recent years.
Alex Moussa Sawadogo, head of the Pan-African Film and TV Festival of Ouagadougou said organizers wanted to go ahead with the event known by its French acronym, FESPACO in spite of the challenges to show Burkina Faso can still “inspire imagination through cinema.”
"This event will be a FESPACO of resistance because it is taking place under harsh security and health conditions,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in the capital, Ouagadougou.
Sawadogo said the number of venues has been reduced this year.
The weeklong festival showcases works by African filmmakers and works produced on the continent. Out of nearly 1,200 films submitted, 282 have been selected to compete, some of which have already been shown at places like Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival.
Participants say they hope FESPACO will be a breath of fresh air for a suffering nation. Boubakar Diallo, a film director and two-time FESPACO winner, will debut his comedy, “The 3 Lascars”, about three friends going on a trip with their mistresses.
“In these very difficult times for Burkina Faso and all the countries of the Sahel because of the terrorist attacks, I have the pleasure of offering a beautiful comedy to make people smile, to entertain the public and ask questions about our current identity, to show our identity to others and enjoy theirs,” Diallo, 59, said.
Burkina Faso was once regarded as a beacon of peaceful coexistence in the region, which some attribute to its rich cultural scene.
“Culture builds the ground for development. It is crucial for living together in peace,” said Alexander Widmer, head of governance at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Burkina Faso, which co-funds the film festival.
Some people think the event could be an opportunity to unite an increasingly fractured nation and remind the world that it’s still open for business.
“It’s now that FESPACO is even more important for the country,” said Koudbi Kabore, a historian and researcher at Joseph Ki Zerbo University in Ouagadougou. “It showcases African cinema, and holding it will undoubtedly return Burkina Faso’s image of being a good destination for business and investment."