Africa’s top film festival tackles a continent’s troubles

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Africa’s biggest film festival hands out its top award Saturday after a week of viewing works tackling some of the continents pressing issues against the backdrop of the Arab world uprisings.

The inclusion of two films from Egypt, among 18 standing for the Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) grand prize, has new relevance after president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in the pro-democracy revolt.

Entries from Algeria and Morocco, touched by the uprisings, are also in the running for the golden Stallion of Yennenga, alongside a strong showing from West Africa, with Mozambique and South Africa featuring too.

The "movement beginning to show itself in the Arab world … is the logical consequence of the positive influence of images of the great democracies on people," commented Ardiouma Soma, head of selection for the festival.

In all 111 films — in and out of competition — were selected to be shown during FESPACO which opened in the Burkina Faso capital on February 22 to a crowd of about 25,000 people.

Cinema giant Egypt returned to the top category for the first time in 15 years, although the presence at the festival of its selected filmmakers was thrown in doubt by the revolution.

"For a month, we were without contact (with them) because of the events over there," festival director Michel Ouedraogo said.

The Egyptian entries are Yousry Nasrallah’s "Ehky ya Scheherazade" (Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story) which criticizes censorship, and "The Wedding" from Sameh Abdel Aziz which explores issues including the impact of the financial crisis.

Also vying for the top prize are "Essaha" by Algerian Dahmane Ouzid and "La mosquee" by Moroccan Daoud Aoulad Syad, which both question the place of Islam in modern society.

"Cinema has been a pretext for talking about the problems of religion," Aoulad Syad told AFP.

"In Muslim countries we have this problem with religion where anyone could grab the Koran and interpret it in his own way," he said.

Benin entry "Un pas en avant, les dessous de la corruption" tackles the misappropriation of international aid.

"Corruption has done a lot of harm to us in Africa, that is what I want to say to our leaders," director Sylvestre Amoussou said.

"They should not laugh and say ‘it is only cinema’ because I have only transcribed what I have seen, what I hear."

Another listing, "Notre étrangère" ("The Place in Between") from Sarah Bouyain, is the poignant story of a mixed race woman who returns to Burkina from France to find her mother.

"There are an enormous number of children who leave Africa when they are young, or who are born in Europe without knowing their culture," Bouyain said.

Besides the top feature film section, other competition categories include short fiction films, films from the diaspora, TV-video and documentaries.

Among the off competition showings is French-Algerian film-maker Rachid Bouchareb’s "Hors la loi" ("Outside The Law"), an explosive thriller about the Algerian war of independence which sparked protests at Cannes last year.

For the organizers, the biennial festival has shown that African cinema is vibrant: 475 films applied for entry while 300 had been expected, they said. –AFP



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