• Friday, April 12, 2024
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Random musings from the African Cinema Championship (FESPACO)


  As I sit in the lobby of my hotel in Ouagadougou, thinking of what to write, my mind travels to the reason I am here. I am sitting on the most prestigious Jury of African Cinema and although there are movies from all over the continent in all categories, I am wondering aloud ‘but where is Nollywood?’

The Pan African Film Festival otherwise known as FESPACO, is Africa’s biggest and most respected film festivals and one of the world’s favourite rendezvous on Africa cinema. Every great movie shot on the continent or by African film makers would wait for the two year circle it usually holds just to have a feel of the pulse of the audience. Unless it wins in FESPACO, no matter the prizes or laurels it gathers anywhere else, there is usually a sense of emptiness. FESPACO is where peers endorse you. It is where you are considered a true cineaste.

Programmers of most big festivals around the world come to FESPACO to feel the pulse and see new trends in African cinema. They also come to FESPACO to see what films to invite into the competition or for general viewing in their cinemas. Intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals on African cinemas also come and try to exhibit their knowledge about the latest on African cinema.

From the poolside of Hotel Azalai also popularly called Hotel Independence to the Siege Fespaco, and across various venues and cinemas in Ouagadougou the atmosphere is magical! There is a soul about the festival that is

surpassed only by the one in Cannes along the French Riviera. In the midst of all the activities I can hardly find Nigerians.

It may be argued that we do not speak French and so it may be difficult to interact, but that is so far from the truth. Even the aver

age ‘Okada’ rider here can communicate in smattering English! As usual when the continent meets we usually miss out because we are either too lazy or too proud to learn other languages or simply that we do not care. We are losing out in sports, politics at the continental level today because the Francophonies have dominated it. Same is happening in global cinema.

Nollywood contents itself today with the fact that we produce the highest number of films in the world only next to Bollywood and ahead of Hollywood. Well and good, but the net income of only one of those films will make nonsense of the total gross of our so-called thousands of films. As I sit and adjudicate over the best of African cinema, I see production values Nollywood can only dream of. I see movies supported by many broadcasters and film funds. I see movies supported by governments. I see country ambassadors, ministers of culture and top dignitaries attend screenings of movies from their country with pride, even throwing parties to celebrate the film makers as if it is a world cup of films of sorts. I see national pride and dignity when films of a particular country are being screened and I wonder ‘wither Nollywood?

Nigeria is not without some semblance of a presence in the festival though. Professor Wole Soyinka was invited as guest speaker to talk about adaptation of literature in films, at the video and television series competition we

have a movie by Niji Akanni and mercifully we have an entry from a FESPACO laureate Newton Aduaka Ifeanyi in the main international features competition. Newton is not based in Nigeria and usually when he wins the French take credit, understandably. He is based in France, is financed from there and they support him. Good thing is he will always say his work is from Nigeria because he is proudly one. The other good point is my presence in the top jury and of course the opening ceremony which had as the main act our very own Flavour performing live before screaming crowds of thousands of Burkinabes and visitors at the national stadium here in Ouagadougou. We also have a Nigerian journalist and blogger Derin Ajao who is attending a workshop organised by Africine during the festival.

I wonder as I sit and write, where our stars are in the gathering of who-is-who in African cinema. I wonder where our thousands of cheap Africa Magic soap opera type movies are in the gathering of Africa’s ‘Cinema Championship’. I wonder where our movie politicians who specialise in fighting for positions in guilds to use as leverage for their own selfish gains are. I wonder where our culture and information ministries even our foreign affairs ministries, all of who have been the greatest beneficiaries of the Nollywood whitewash without any tangible investments, are. I wonder… I wonder….