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African Film Festival Tackles Tough Issues

  • Gabi Menezes

Africa's biggest film festival, FESPACO, is taking place in Burkina Faso, highlighting controversial issues from female circumcision to torture. Some African films are also enjoying a rare moment in the international spotlight.

For eight days Burkina Faso's dusty capital Ougadougou is crowded with some of the biggest names in African cinema, as it hosts a biannual festival. This year the 20 films competing for the top prize, show the filmmakers' conviction that movies are a tool for change.

Film director Fanta Nacro's film, Night and the Truth, is set in an imaginary country, where people are about to end a bloody ethnic conflict. Ms. Nacro dedicated the piece to her uncle, who was tortured and killed in 1983 by Burkina Faso's government.

Ms. Nacro says she believes film can help social and feminist issues evolve, when motion pictures are used as a platform for change.

There are a record three women competing for the prestigious Golden Stallion prize. A woman has yet to win the statue, which features a female warrior carrying a spear and sitting on a horse.

The film Hero explores post-conflict issues in Angola, showing people struggling to find normality after their brutal civil war. The director, Zeze Gamboa says he believes his work contributes to national reconciliation.

Mr. Gamboa says that his hero can represent the Angolan people. He is a young boy, who lost a leg in the civil war, and is now trying to build a new life for himself.

One of the most controversial films to be screened at the festival is by veteran Senegalese director Sembene Ousmane. His film Moolaade explores female circumcision, and won a prize in France's prestigious Cannes film festival. The 81-year-old director dedicated his film to women who fight for the abolition of female circumcision.

A film maker from Burkina Faso, Dominic Zeda, said that although shocking, Moolade had an important message for women in traditional society.

"This year in Moolaade they take courage and say 'stop female circumcision," he said. " And it was like a revolution in society, when women had no right to speak."

Although African films are getting more international attention, film makers say they are not given enough technical support and funds. The film festival has made technical expertise and training one of its themes. Two new film schools are also opening in Burkina Faso to foster home grown talent.