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Africa's Largest Film Festival to Reflect on Changing Industry


Filmmakers, fans and critics are preparing to attend one of Africa's largest film festivals known as FESPACO. As theaters are shutting down across Africa, the festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso opening this Saturday is one of the few remaining places to see African cinema on the big screen, and to debate its future. Phuong Tran catches up with participants and has this report from VOA's Central and West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The festival will show more than 200 films, and host a meeting on how globalization has affected African cinema.

The President of the Senegalese Film Association, Cheikh Ba, says globalization has hit artists hard in Africa.

Ba says when governments cut funding for the arts to help reduce their debts, African cinema went through a crisis. He says it is almost impossible for filmmakers to survive without government subsidies.

French film critic Jean Roy says African filmmakers have had to look for cheaper ways to make films.

He says digital technology makes it possible even for someone in a remote village to make a film.

"It is much easier, much cheaper to shoot movies [with] all these new digital technologies," he said. "You do not need an expensive lab. Now, a camera is becoming like a pen. Everyone can shoot a movie, a movie like you write a letter or you write a novel."

As more viewers have access to these low-budget films, African producers complain their films are being illegally copied.

They say even shantytowns have illegal video clubs.

While digital technology increases what is known as popular cinema in countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt, Roy says more films does not mean better films.

"Of course, they are very low budget and they are not so interesting, because their aim is to be sold, and you just go on to the next one," he added.

But Senegalese documentarian, Samba Felix Ndiaye, 61, says digital technology can help produce high-quality films on much-needed topics.

Ndiaye digitally shot his most recent film called Questions to My Native Land, which he entered into this year's first documentary competition at FESPACO.

He says no matter how a film is made, African filmmakers still have a hard time finding people to show their films.

Ndiaye says filmmakers should approach newly privatized television stations. He says even though there are no programs or channels reserved yet for cinema in Africa, television will play a bigger role in helping films reach more people.

But Senegal's Film Association president Ba says television stations are not interested in films.

He says filmmakers need to find another solution.

Ba says one country alone cannot support its filmmakers, but many countries in a region can combine their audiences and resources to promote each other's films.

He says this regional distribution network will help filmmakers reach a larger audience, and cover their production costs.

Film critic Roy says getting these films to an international audience is even harder. He says he sees about five films on Africa each year at international film festivals.

"On a continent that is so huge, you should have more films," he said. "But for that you need some political will to put money [into films]. You need cultural will to consider cineastes as important people and as artists."

Burkinabe filmmaker Fanta Regina Nacra is a judge in this year's short-film competition.

Nacra says because it is so hard for filmmakers to show their work, FESPACO is important to keep African cinema alive.

She says the audience will be pleased with this year's films. She adds the films are of international quality, and can compete at any festival.

The FESPACO festival opens Saturday and will continue for one week.

This twentieth FESPACO festival will have a special section on Malian cinema.

A total of 20 films are competing for the prestigious feature film prize worth about $20,000.

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