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Filmmakers Gather at Pan-African Film Festival

African filmmakers and film-lovers gathered recently to watch movies, to network and celebrate 40 years of African cinema at the. But a lack of organization and concern over funding rivaled the films for the spotlight.

In the dusty heart of West Africa, the film festival known here as FESPACO opened with 127 films from across the continent.

A red carpet welcome for festival VIPs on opening night attracted few onlookers.

This year, FESPACO was hoping to put on a glamorous show. But with free outdoor films axed in favor of closed screenings, much of Ouagadougou's population was shut out of the festival. According to many, the buzz of previous years was subdued.

The festival gave a nod to Africa's cinematic past. Directors and dignitaries remembered the late Ousmane Sembene, the legendary Senegalese filmmaker and social critic who helped create FESPACO 40 years ago. A stone statue was unveiled in his honor.

Burkinabe actor Rasmané Ouedraogo starred in Sembene's last film, Mooladé.

Rasmané Ouedraogo
"This tribute is an invitation to all filmmakers and the world of cinema to remember that Sembene fought for FESPACO and for the African continent and also for human freedom itself," he said.

At Oubri Cinema, the oldest of Ouagadougou's four movie theaters, festivalgoers lined up to see Mascarades, a comedy set in an Algerian village.

But despite quality films, many at the festival say the organization was poor, with poor projection and brightly-lit screening rooms. Christiane Chabi-Kao is a filmmaker from Benin.

"My film was shown at 11 AM in a room full of light," she said. "It was terrible. The audience walked out after 15 minutes."

But for some, this year's festival was better than ever.

FESTIVALGOER: "Every year I have a great time, so I keep coming back. This year is particularly interesting with lots of good films."

Ouagadougou's Hotel Independence is a meeting point for filmmakers, producers and distributors where the main topic this year was funding.

Issa Traoré is a Burkinabé director.

Issa Traoré
"African cinema is in trouble because the European subsidies that funded production of most African films are now limited or have dried up completely," he explained.

The era of great cinematographers like Sembene may be finished. But a new generation of African directors hopes to win Africa's version of the Oscar, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.

The top stallion this year went to Teza, an epic about a young Ethiopian, educated in East Germany, who returns to his village after the fall of Emperor Haile Selasse.