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 Burkinabés’ 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.
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.
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 possible exceptions of Egypt and 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 — albeit perhaps beholden to a degree to the artistic sensibility of their French backers.
Heavily indebted to Soviet technique, Burkinabé 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 — or at least North America. 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.
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 Ã©trangers (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 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 National du Cinéma.
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 to his companion, informing me that she was Rosine Yangolo (the actress who played Pongere). As far as “celebrity sightings” go, it was unexpected.
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 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).
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 coeur (1994), Gorki (1994), Afrique, mon Afrique (1994), a segment of Lumière et compagnie (1995), Kini and Adams (1997), Les Parias du cinéma (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 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).
UPDATE: In 2010 Sarah Bouyain directed Notre étrangère.
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.
S. Pierre Yamégo has directed two films so far, Silmande – Tourbillon (1998) and Delwende, Lève-toi et marche (2005).
I love that
is rocking what looks to my Western eyes 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 tastemakers at Criterion to shame.
Daniel Kollo Sanou‘s Tasuma (2003) and Dani Kouyaté‘s Sia, le reve du python (2001) are also available from Facets on a Burkinabé double feature.
He’s also made Beogo Naba (1978), Les Dodos (1980), Paweogo (1982), Jubilé d’une cathédrale (1984), L’Artisanat et son pays (1984), Sarraouina (1987), Fespaco 1989 (1989), Siao 1991 (1991), Jigi (1992), Marcel et le médiateur du Faso (1998, c0-directed with Pierre Rouamba), Taxi Brousse (1999-2015), La Piraterie, un fléau en Afrique de l’Ouest (2000), Tasuma (2005), Droit de mémoire (2006, co-directed with Pierre Rouamba), Après l’urgence (2007, co-directed with Jean-Claude Frisque), le poids du serment (2011), Docteur Yeelzanga (2012), Affaires Publics (2012-2015), and Le Bon Riz de Madame Moui (a Taiwanese-Burkinabé co-production).
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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