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Festival Brings Attention to Female Filmmakers' Challenges in Africa


During this week's Pan African Film and Television Festival - known as FESPACO - in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, filmmakers are showing more than 200 films. By the end of the week, six will receive recognition. Men dominate all the contest categories, just as they did in the last festival. Female filmmakers and scholars say cinema is still very much a man's world, but that this is slowly changing. Phuong Tran has more from our West Africa Bureau in Dakar, with additional reporting by Zoumana Wonogo in Ouagadougou.

Judges are watching 20 films to decide which one should win the festival's top feature film prize.

The film Barakat by Algeria's Djamila Sahraoui is the only one produced by a woman.

In the previous FESPACO festival, Burkinabe Fanta Regina Nacro was one of few women whose film competed for the top prize.

Nacro says, even if a woman does walk away with the prize at a festival competition, it does not make her job any easier as a filmmaker.

"An African female filmmaker works in a society where women occupy a certain traditional position," she explains. "So when a woman makes a film, people will gossip, and spread lies about her film. I still have not overcome these difficulties, but film is my passion and when I decided to become a filmmaker, I knew I would face these challenges."

Nacro is a judge in this year's short film category, which has three films made by women, out of 16 entries.

Another prize category is television series and comedies. The only female-produced series is called Ina by Burkinabe Valerie Kabore. Her series of 15 television shows tells the story of a young struggling female lawyer whose father wishes she could be a more traditional woman.

Kabore says she wanted to show how life is a permanent conflict for her main character, much like it has been in her own life as a filmmaker.

Both Burkinabe filmmakers Nacro and Kabore say finding funding for film projects is a huge challenge, regardless of gender.

But Beti Ellerson, an American professor who has studied female African filmakers, says African women often have more responsibilities at home than men do, which makes it harder for them to focus on film financing.

"They have multiple identities as filmmakers," she explains. "Together with their film making duties is the role of mother, wife, daughter, woman and African - as well as working in other jobs - [because] filmmaking in Africa is not financially viable."

But Ellerson says the field is opening up more to women. She gives as an example last year's election of South African filmmaker Seipati Bulane Hopa as secretary general of the Pan African Association of Filmmakers.

"Once she was nominated and they asked for a second nomination, no one came forth. It was then stated that the nominations were closed. And, everyone clapped. It was a phenomenal event," Ellerson says. "There was this real sense that this needed to happen and it was far time it should be a woman."

Female movie makers say associations of African women in film, cheaper digital technology to make films and the increased use of television for film distribution have also created more opportunities for women.

FESPACO continues until Saturday, when one film will receive the festival's top prize, called the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.

The prize is named after a fabled warrior daughter of a 12th Century West African king who helped her father in battle.

Since the prize was awarded in 1972, none of the 17 winners have been women.

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