Africa’s largest film festival brings hope to Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Most film festivals can be expected to entertain, laced with some introspection.

The week-long FESPACO, which opens Saturday in the violence-plagued capital of Burkina Faso, also offers hope and a symbol of resilience: in years of political strife and Islamic extremist attacks that have killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people in the West African country. , was never deleted.

“The only thing left is FESPACO so we don’t think about what’s going on,” said Burkinabe actress Maimouna Ndiaye, who received four entries for this year’s competition. “This is the event that should not be canceled regardless of the situation.”

Since the last edition of the biennial festival in Ouagadougou, the country’s troubles have intensified. Successive failures by governments to stop extremist violence sparked two military coups last year, with each junta leader promising security – but with little result.

At least 70 soldiers were killed in two attacks earlier this month in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region. The fighting has also fueled discord among the once peaceful population, pitting communities and ethnicities against each other.

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Still, more than 15,000 people, including Nigerian, Senegalese and Ivorian cinema celebrities, are expected in Ouagadougou for FESPACO, Africa’s biggest film festival, which was launched in 1969.

Some 1,300 films were submitted for consideration and 100 were selected for the competition from 35 African countries and the diaspora, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Almost half of the participants in the fiction competition this year are managed by women.

Among them is Apolline Traore, the director and producer of Burkinabe, whose film Sira, considered the first prize in this year’s competition, is a symbol of the suffering of many Burkinabes. It tells the story of a woman’s struggle to survive after being kidnapped by jihadists in the Sahel, while her fiancé tries to find her.

Still, Traore is upbeat about his country’s prospects.

“The world painted Burkina Faso as a red country. It’s dangerous to come to my country, as they say,” he told The Associated Press. “We’re probably a little broken, but we’re not down.”

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Government officials say they have beefed up security and will ensure the safety of festival goers.

Many hope that FESPACO will help boost domestic unity and strengthen ties with other countries at a time when anti-French sentiment is on the rise in Burkina Faso.

Wolfram Vetter, the European Union’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, called the film festival “an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in Burkina Faso and beyond.”

The EU is the largest funder of the event after the Burkinabe government, contributing approximately €250,000 ($265,000).