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African Film Festival Gives Top Award to Child Soldier Film


Africa's largest film festival, the Pan African Film and Television Festival, FESPACO, finished on Saturday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Nigerian filmmaker Newton Aduaka took the top prize for his film about a child soldier in West Africa. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar with reporting by Zoumana Wonogo in Ouagadougou who spoke with festival winners.

Aduaka's film, Ezra,tells the story of a seven-year-old boy kidnapped by rebels and forced to fight in a civil war. Though no location is ever specified in the film, the story is based on the war that began in Sierra Leone in the early nineties.

According to United Nations, around 10,000 children fought in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

In Ezra the child soldier attacks his village, kills his family, and denies all when called before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Filmmaker Aduaka accepted the top festival prize, Golden Stallion, as well as a check for $20,000, from the president of Burkino Faso, Blaise Compaore.

At previous FESPACO festivals, Aduaka won Best First Work for his film Rage and Best Short Film for On the Edge, but this is the first time he has won the top prize.

Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo won the Silver Stallion, or second place, for his film Les Saignantes, an erotic story set in the future of two women who try to win politicians' favor with their beauty.

Chad's Mahamat-Saleh Haroun won Bronze Stallion for his film Daratt in which a young man tries to find and kill the man who murdered his father.

Altogether, more than 80 films competed for the festival's six awards.

Rhalib Jawad from Morocco won first prize in the documentary category for his film El Ejido, the Law of Profit, a film about African immigrants working in Spain.

For films done outside Africa, a film from Haiti, The President Has AIDS, by Haitian filmmaker Arnold Antonin won the top prize.

Daniel Taye Workou from Ethiopia was overwhelmed when his film Menged, which tells the story of a trip to the market by a father and son, won the short film competition. In his acceptance speech, Workou expressed the hope that Africans would have the opportunity to view more films by Africans.

"To have a prize in West Africa being from East Africa is a very nice honor because it shows the story of my film is [appeals to all Africans]. I wish Africa can make quality films so we do not have to watch all the American films that come [just] because they are there and available," he said. "We have to have our own films that give the people hope, strength and identity."

In the television series and sitcoms, Abdoulaye Dao became the only Burkinabe to take home a prize when he won an award for his series When Elephants Fight. Cyrille Masso from Cameroon won with his fiction video Confidences.

Thousands of people connected with the world of African cinema attended the awards ceremony, including many Africans now living outside the continent, as well as a small number of non-African filmmakers. Over the course of the week-long festival more than 200 films from 44 countries were shown. When the festival first opened in 1969, five countries participated.

Held every two years, the next festival will be 2009 in Ouagadougou, which will mark the 40th anniversary of Africa's largest film festival.