Ethiopian Film Takes Top Honours at FESPACO

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The culturally disarmed cannot stand as peers in a culturally armed world. -Asa G. Hilliard, lll

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 Ethiopian Film Takes Top Honours at FESPACO
Brahima Ouédraogo
March 16, 2009

OUAGADOUGOU, Mar 14 (IPS) - Filmmaker Haile Gerima’s Ethiopian movie "Teza" has won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga at the 21st Panafrican Festival of Cinema and Television (Fespaco) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Gaston Kaboré, the Burkinabé filmmaker who presided over the jury for feature films, told IPS, "Teza is a masterpiece at all levels of creativity. From the strength of the film to the powerful images, it is a very accomplished piece of work." Altogether 18 feature films competed for the top prize; as the winner, Gerima receives about $20,000.

The film tells of the adventures of a young man, Anberber, who in the early 1970s leaves his village Minzero to go and study in Germany. He comes back home in 1990, a changed man.

Haile Gerima himself immigrated to the United States in 1968 and has taught film at Howard University in Washington since 1975.
According to Kaboré, Gerima’s film simultaneously addresses "times gone by, moments etched in memory, history and the culture of the continent," while also showing "how Africans can master their present and their future and leave behind the trauma and dilemmas they have experienced. "  "The filmmaker’s hard work, serious and determined attitude and pursuit of excellence really come across in this movie," says Kaboré.

Selome Gerima, co-producer of the film, was in Ouagadougou to receive the award on behalf of her brother Haile, who could not make it.

"This film conveys many messages to African intellectuals who suffer racism abroad - but do not draw lessons from their tribulations when they return home." Fespaco, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year under the theme "African Cinema, Tourism and Cultural Heritage." The aim was to stress the importance of imagery when disseminating African culture; the kind of imagery which will result in attracting tourists. But the problem of financing film remains the bottleneck of African filmmakers.

According to Mauritanian filmmaker, Abdheramane Cissako, winner of the Yennenga prize in 2003 with his film "Heremakono" , some countries have gone ten years without producing films while the most fortunate ones produce a film every three years. "African politicians choose not to view culture as a cornerstone for the development of countries," Cissako laments. He adds that, "this shows a lack of foresight because where there is vision, there is possibility. "

According to the chair of the jury for short films, Baluku Bakupa Kanyinda, the origins of competing works in this category during this year's Fespaco gives an idea of the national policies governing film production in various countries. Of the 19 films in competition, 14 are from North Africa, five of them from Morocco alone.

"This proves that Morocco is supporting its cinema industry. But it highlights the lack of participation from sub-Saharan Africa," says Baluku. He tells IPS that countries in sub-Saharan Africa need to realise they must master the short film genre before moving onto longer films. Baluku is nevertheless pleased that some countries have acknowledged this by supporting training and production in the short film industry. He explains that only television and film are able to tell stories etched in popular memory.

The prize for best short film was won by "Sektou" (They are silent), by Algerian filmmaker Benaïssa Khaled. "Africa has a problem: we are people who have been politically abused. We have a shattered image because Africa now absorbs strange and foreign images which are not of its own making," says Baluku, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. "When we wake up, we look in the mirror and see someone else, not ourselves. Then you get people wanting to lighten their skin and have long hair."

The president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, who presented the Golden Stallion to the winner, said he would take up the responsibility to talk to other African leaders so they could become more involved in supporting film production on the continent.

"It's a quest for us in Africa, and now through Fespaco, to be able to produce films in Africa made by Africans and also to show an image that best signals our aspirations and expectations; our desire to present ourselves to the rest of the world, " stresses Compaoré. Baluku tells IPS, "Africa’s problem is not its economy. The problem is its image and the way the world portrays it. Only cinema can change that."


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