|The Courier N° 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)|
|Culture and the arts|
The anti-apartheid masterpiece from then ghettoes of Johannesburg
Sarafina, the finest musical comedy troupe from the ghettoes of Johannesburg made its first Brussels appearance at the Cirque Royal on 25-30 April. Invited by the Foundation for ACP-EEC Cultural Cooperation the young black musicians and dancers from South Africa came to the Belgian capital and the European institutions after their triumphs on Broadway, in Paris and in Germany and - most important - after their performance at the signing ceremony for the fourth ACP-EEC Convention in Lomn December 1989.
Sarafina is an extraordinary story of courage in the face of powerful oppression through law and arms of an entire people. It is also a wonderful story of hope and an expression of the strength of youth - the youth of South Africa before February 1990 (when Nelson Mandela was freed) - against a system whose sole basis was the negation of another part of the South African people.
It was created in early 1986 by Mbongeni Ngema, a black South African, home from the USA where his latest musical comedy Asinamali, had been a great success off Broadway in New York. The point of the show was to give a new dimension to the struggle against apartheid, passing on the message through dance, emotion and laughter - still the best weapon against despair.
Mbongeni Ngema can be content. He has not done at all badly. Sarafina has won international fame and, since February 1990, South Africa has finally begun to turn the last page of a not very glorious chapter in its history.
This show is still a poignant way of pointing up the salutary role of history taught through every form of expression. And it is an artistic and cultural masterpiece which is well-worth seeing.
Ouagadougous Panafrican Film Festival, held in the capital of Burkina Faso every two years, is now one of the continents major cultural events, there is no doubt about that.
It was started back in 1969 to give black film makers a much-needed event of their own along the lines of the Maghrebs Carthage Festival. FESPACO 12 was held from 23 February to 2 March 1991.
Audiences have increased constantly over the years until the whole continent has gradually become involved. The French-speaking side clearly dominated to begin with, but the festival is doing more and more to reflect what is going on in all the countries of Africa and the English-speaking encouraged by the Golden Yennenga, the big prize, which went to Ghanaian Kwaw Ansahs Heritage Africa in 1989, are in far greater evidence. This year, 200 films were shown to 300000 enthusiasts, including 1500 invitees from abroad, in 13 rooms.
Burkina Faso is the first to be thanked for this success. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it believed in the festival from the start and has willingly borne the bulk of the organisational costs, sometimes with help from bilateral and multilateral funders including France, Denmark, Sweden, the EEC and the ACCT. For Burkina shares the enthusiasm for films so common throughout the Sahel, a phenomenon that is difficult to understand at first sight, given the huge amounts the cinema costs in very underprivileged countries. But the fact is that film production standards are higher in Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Niger than in better-off places like CdIvoire, Gabon and Cameroon. This may be, as this years FESPACO president, Malian film-maker Souleymane Cisspointed out a few years ago, because the people there have the greatest need of works of fiction to escape from their daily round of poverty.
These countries took most of the awards again this year. The Golden Yennenga, Burkinas first, went to Idrissa Ouaogos Tilawhich had done well at Cannes last year (Ouaogos previous film, Yaaba, just missed the big prize in 1989) and the prize for the best documentary, Yiri Kan, went to another Burkinabe, Issiaka KonatBut the film which swept the board was Malian Adama Drabos Ta donna, which took the Oumarou Ganda prize for the best work and the ACCT, environmental, OAU, African critics, Institute of Oriental Languages and City of Perugia awards. And the best actor and actress were Malian artistes, Bala Moussa Ke and Mariatou Kouyat
This was the fourth time that the Commission of the European Communities made an award for the best short African films illustrating development problems or helping promote cultural identity; The judges, led by Hubert Ferraton, gave the first prize, worth CFAF 1 million (FF 20000) to Yiri Kan, the story of a boy whose father, a famous musician, teaches him the balafon. The second prize, CFAF 500 000 (FF 10 000) went to Dernier des Babingas by David Pierre Fila from Congo, in which an old pygmy chief tells how the forest and the environment in which he lived disappeared, and there was a special mention for Its not easy, a dramatised warning about AIDS by Faustin Misanwu from Uganda.
Everyone agreed that FESPACO had dire organisational problems this year. Finding somewhere to stay in Ouagadougou was practically impossible and rooms were in such demand that a had been closed down for not taxes had to be re-opened.
Worse still, some of the films for screening were still not available the day before the festival began, spoiling any attempt-at a proper screening schedule. On top of that, the chairman of the judges had to wait three days to get the projector he needed to look at the selected films.
Everything fell into place at the last minute, as it so often does in Africa, but let that not detract from the fact that FESPACO has grown enormously over the past year or two - giantism, is how some people put it - and that there are always meetings, seminars and discussion groups to add to an already very busy event and that the whole logistical side of the festival needs overhauling. Burkina Faso cannot go on paying for it all by itself indefinitely either. The other countries of Africa will have to help pay for this showing of their continents film industry. This would mean that the awards could be more generous, a desirable improvement when some of the prizes which private- European bodies award at Ouagadougou, carry more money than the Yennenga.
Lastly, FESPACO should take a close look at the subtitling of English-language films and the translation of English-language discussions. Better attendance by the English-speaking countries, many at which are still avoiding the event, depends on making a success of this. It should be done quickly too, for Zimbabwes Front-Line Film Festival in June last year is to be a two-yearly event like FESPACO and there is a real risk that the English-speakers will want to go:to Harare instead. However, the competition could be healthy if it means that organisational methods are revised. FESPACO, now an institution, must rise to the challenge.