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South Africa Takes Home Continent's Top Film Prize

  • Joe Bavier

A South African film has taken top honors at the FESPACO Film Festival in Burkina Faso. This is the first time a South African entry has won the award, which is given to the film that best depicts African realities.

It was a triumphant end to an impressive week for South African cinema, with director Zola Maseko taking the Golden Stallion of Yennenga Saturday for his film Drum.

Of the 20 entries in competition for best feature length-film at the festival, known by its French acronym FESPACO, four were produced in South Africa. Only host nation Burkina Faso had as many.

Mr. Maseko's winning entry is set in 1950s Sophiatown, the heart of Johannesburg's flourishing jazz scene and a hotbed of resistance against the country's institutionalized racism. It tells the story of a journalist, Henry Nxumalo, and his magazine, Drum, from which the film takes its name.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Maseko called the victory an honor to the South African people and to their struggle to overcome the country's brutal system of apartheid.

He later told reporters that he is happy to see South Africa finally catching up with the French-speaking countries that have traditionally dominated at FESPACO and African cinema in general.

"You know, we have a lot of support from South Africa," he said. "But it was not always like this. And, for the past 20 years, the francophone countries have been supported by France. And that was really great, because it meant that we could develop an African cinema, and I think that the African image, or African stories, or African cinema, is just going to get stronger and stronger, because there are more voices coming to do their thing."

Despite South Africa's strong showing, directors from French-speaking countries largely prevailed at FESPACO. Moroccan and Burkinabe filmmakers took the second and third prizes in the feature film division. And francophone countries swept the awards in the short film category.

President of host nation Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, said he was proud of his country's association with the avant-guard of the struggle to promote African cinema.

Along with Mali, Senegal and Algeria, Burkina Faso is one of the continent's traditional powerhouses. It won more than a half-dozen of the top awards, including best screenplay for the film, "The Night of Truth, and best film as voted by the public for Tasuma, le feu.

In addition to screenings of African films, the week-long festival, which celebrated its 19th edition this year, holds workshops and seminars on cinema production.