FESPACO 2019: 50-year Anniversary of the African Film Festival

FESPACO 2019_1
FESPACO 2019 (featuring Maimouna N’Diaye – 2015 winner of Best Actress in a leading role)

2019 marks the 50th year anniversary of the FESPACO.  As a reminder, the FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du cinema et de la television de Ouagadougou) is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, and is the largest African film festival, held biennally in Ouagadougou, the capital of  Burkina Faso. First established in 1969, and boasting some of Africa’s greatest writers and filmmakers (like Ousmane Sembene), the FESPACO offers a chance for African filmmakers and professionals to showcase their work, exchange ideas, and meet other filmmakers, and sponsors. Filmmakers from around the continent come together in Ouagadougou which is transformed into the Hollywood or the Cannes of the continent for this 8-day celebration. This year’s FESPACO ran from February 23 to March 2nd.

Golden Stallion of Yennenga
The Golden Stallion of Yennenga

To mark the 50th-year edition, a particular focus was set on reflecting on the collective memory and future of the pan-African cinema. Films from 16 African countries were vying for the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, a prize named after the story of a 12th century beautiful princess who is considered the mother of the Mossi people, Princess Yennenga.

The Golden Stallion of Yennenga 2019 was awarded to the movie “The Mercy of the Jungle” directed by Joel Karekezi of Rwanda. “The Mercy of the Jungle” shows the arduous road trip taken by foot of two soldiers lost in the jungle during the time of the Democratic Republic of Congo wars. It beat out 19 other candidates to get the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.  Marc Zinga, a Belgian, also took best actor for his role in “The Mercy of the Jungle.”

Rwanda_Joel Karekezi FESPACO 2019
Joel Karekezi, winner of the 2019 Golden Stallion of Yennenga (Fraternite Matin)

Second prize went to “Karma”, a drama by Egyptian director Khaled Youssef, while third place was awarded to Tunisian Ben Hohmound, who directed “Fatwa”, another drama.

This year also, women have complained about the fact that in 50 years, not a single woman has won the top prize at FESPACO. This highlights a problem of gender equality for film directors. South African actress Xolile Tshabalala, who featured in “Miraculous Weapons”, directed by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, a Cameroonian asked, “can it be that in 50 years, there hasn’t been a single woman capable of telling a great story to win the Fespaco?” Burkinabe director Apolline Traore said that any award had to be earned, not considered a token gesture, but admitted that there is a problem in gender equality for directors. “There’s no equality for the craft of a woman director, not just in Africa, but in the world,” she said.  Traore won a special prize on Friday for her film, “Desrances”.

FESPACO 2015: Celebrating African Films


FESPACO 2015 ended last week, and ran from February 28th until March 7th. The festival’s glamour was not at its usual, since the overthrowing of Blaise Compaoré, but it still took place in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and brought in some great African films and documentaries.

"FIEVRES" by Hicham Ayouch
“FIEVRES” by Hicham Ayouch

This year’s festival featured, for the first time, films from the African diaspora. 720 films competed, and 134 were selected in the 5 categories. The winner of this year’s Golden Stallion of Yennenga was “Fievres” by the French-Moroccan filmmaker, Hicham Ayouch.  The film tells the story of a 13 year old boy, displaced and prone to violence who learns that he has a father after his mother is sent to jail, and is sent to live with his father in a Parisian suburb. The beauty of “Fievres” is its focus on telling the tale between a father and son who have to learn to be father-son, and also the cultural identity among immigrants, and practicing Muslims in France.

"Fadhma N'Soumer" by Belkacem Hadjadj
“Fadhma N’Soumer” by Belkacem Hadjadj

The Silver Stallion was awarded to Algerian director Belkacem Hadjadj for his film on “Fadhma N’Soumer“, a stunning biopic on the life of the Algerian resistance leader who fought against the French colonial forces in Kabyle. I was so happy to see this movie made, and winning the second prize, as I had written about Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer a while ago, and wanted her praises to be sung. This is truly Africans telling their own stories, and honoring their greatest heroes and heroines. Applauses to director Belkacem Hadjadj for telling our history.

"L'Oeil du Cyclone" (The Eye of the Cyclone) by Sekou Traore
“L’Oeil du Cyclone” (The Eye of the Cyclone) by Sekou Traore

The Bronze Stallion was awarded to Burkinabé director Sekou TraoréL’Oeil du Cyclone” (The Eye of the Cyclone), which is a political drama set in an unnamed African country plagued by civil war. The film follows an idealistic young lawyer committed to defending a former child soldier charged with war crimes. The movie shows two faces of Africa: the young, idealistic and futuristic, vs. the broken and consumed with the past. The movie also won the festival awards for Best Actress (Maimouna N’Diaye – who is clearly a rising star of African cinema), and Best Actor (Fargass Assandé).

"Capitaine Thomas Sankara" by Christophe Cupelin
“Capitaine Thomas Sankara” by Christophe Cupelin

The Burkinabé public finally had the chance to see the documentary “Capitaine Thomas Sankara” by Christophe Cupelin, which would have never been allowed at FESPACO under Blaise Compaore’s tenure (Thomas Sankara‘s murderer, best friend, and coup-formenter). It was a time to celebrate the life of Burkina Faso’s greatest hero. To read more about this year’s FESPACO, check out The Guardian, and the FESPACO homepage.