Burkina Faso was not among African leading footballing nations, until it almost shocked the world at the grand finale of the 2013 African Cup of Nations, AFCON. I was at Ouagadougou while the match was on; it was on one of those Sundays when you head out with friends and enjoy the fun of not having to be at work—I must add that I love my job though. The date was Sunday, 10 February 2013; I can recall sitting as the lone man with a different opinion among many eagerly optimistic friends—mainly “Ouagalais” (the term for residents of Ouagadougou), downing a bottle of branded wine in a pub while watching the 2013 AFCON final live on the screen.
Prior to the match, the super eagles of Nigeria and the Les Etalons of Burkina Faso had played a draw at the group stage of the competition. Although their team was clearly the underdog, my friends were very optimistic that the draw at the earlier meeting was enough to raise hope for a victory in the match at hand, one of them even told me that if Zambia could defeat Ivory Coast in the last tournament, why can’t the Burkina babes do the same? Anyway, it turned out that I was right and they were wrong. Just before half time, Nigeria’s Sunday Mba clipped the ball over Mohamed Koffi and then volleyed into the far corner to produce the games’ decider. The interesting bit for me was not that I was right actually. It is the way my friends accepted the result, “it is just a game” one of them said. This characteristically defines the Ouagalais as peace loving, easy-going, hardworking folks, who are not easily defeated by circumstances.
After we left the game, a friend told me, “just as you never thought we could play football very well in Burkina Faso, so do many people never gave a thought to my country being African’s entertainment hub.” He was right! Ouagadougou is the last place you will think of when you consider the glitzy world of movies. In fact, if you are from an Anglophone nation like me, the city will probably never featured in your thought as a movie centre even if you are a movie buff. It therefore came as a surprise to me when I learnt that Ouagadougou has hosted the pan-African film festival, FESPACO, for more than four decades—since 1969, and keep showcasing some of the best talents on the continent.
From my research, there is hardly any film festival bigger than FESPACO in Africa. This biannual event holds in Ouagadougou between February and March, pulling filmmakers from across the continent to a festival that climaxes with the presentation of the Etalon d’Or. I narrowly missed the 2013 event as I got into the town months after the two-week event was over. I learnt over 100 films entered for that competition and that everyone was treated to superb entertainment. For what it’s worth, and because of the picture of the festival that my friends engrained in my mind, I promised to make the 2015 edition; I am glad I did!
Four months before the event, the revolution that terminated Blaise Compaore’s 27-year reign as Burkina Faso’s President broke out. Angry countrymen expressed their ‘talents’ on street while everything else halted! While it’s lasted, western media feasted on the crisis, painting Ouagadougou as a flashpoint, a no-go area for tourists. All these dented the prospect of FESPACO—except probably the organizers, I doubt if anyone gave a thought to it, but the crisis soon went to bed, while the streets returned to live.
As always, the streets of Ouaga liven up when the 24th edition of FESPACO held between February and March 2015. The theme, “African cinema: production and dissemination in the digital age,” was a call to filmmakers on the continent to up their games and synchronize with the contemporary digital realities. There were 15 categories of awards competed for, with entering from all over Africa. ‘Fievres’ (Fevers) a movie by Moroccan director, Hicham Ayouch, won the biggest prize of the event, L’Etalon d’Or.
I had thought FESPACO was all about movies, but I was wrong. As the beat of djembe drum welcomed thousands of film fans, including me, to the city’s maquis, I was jolted to the reality of what FESPACO meant: an exhibition of African culture, projected in beats, songs, dances, and movies.
Interesting, Michel Kafando, the President of Burkina Faso was on ground to reassure everyone that FESPACO is not a joke!