Archive for May, 2011

As I have done since 2005, this February I set off to Burkina Faso again to attend the biennial FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, the biggest and most important African film festival in the world. Burkina Faso, as you might know, is one of the poorest countries in the world, but remarkably, has established a prolific film industry with some of the best-known African filmmakers hailing from here. Burkina has hosted the FESPACO film festival since its inauguration in 1969 and has played a central role in the development of indigenous filmmaking in francophone West Africa in the post-independence era. We have screened many Burkinabe films in the Africa in Motion film festival over the past five years, and the famous filmmaker Gaston Kabore, who runs his own film school in Ouaga, attended the festival as guest of honour in 2008.
Now, Burkina Faso is a small, land-locked country on the edge of the Sahara, and February is a hot and dry month. Temperatures regularly soar to above 40 degrees Celsius, so a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, ample bottles of water and light but not skimpy summer clothing is a must. Often I have set off from a snow-covered and freezing Edinburgh to arrive in the oppressing heat of Ouaga the next day – a mind-blowing contrast which only regular jet-setters would be able to sympathise with! Luckily my generous Leverhulme travel funding allowed me to book a hotel room with air con, though not in one of the international 5 star hotels (typically owned by a rich oil producing country in the Middle East), which I don’t like in any case as it insulates you from the ‘real life’ on the streets!

I love Burkina Faso (and not only because I’m planning to marry a man from there…but that’s another story and another blog!). It has less French influence than countries such as Senegal and Ivory Coast, as France did not care much to develop this country which is practically semi-desert and without any significant mineral deposits. It is a friendly and fascinating place. Life happens outside; mopeds, and the occasional SUV, choke the dusty roads, street hawkers sell anything from mobile phone cards and lottery tickets to kitchen utensils and underwear. The women are beautiful in their traditional two-piece outfits of printed wax fabrics. The arts and crafts are intricate and skilled – colourful batiks, hand-crafted drums and balafons, coconut shell jewellery… The food is fantastic and fantastically calorific – lots of rice of course, as a West African staple, accompanied by oily stews of chicken or fresh-water fish, onions, green peppers, yellow chillies (lots of!), peanut sauce, fried plantain, succulent mangoes and enormous avocados.
FESPACO is an unforgettable and unique experience. It has been called the African Cannes but it is nothing like that elitist, stuffy and self-important festival in the south of France. It is friendly, accessible, down-to-earth and chaotic. The festival opens with a breath-taking spectacle in the city’s enormous football stadium, with lots of live music performances, dancers, show horses, performers on stilts, fireworks and the obligatory speeches. Over one week hundreds of films from every corner of the continent are screened in the city’s multiple cinemas, interspersed with press conferences, workshops, seminars, red carpet parties and lots of ‘celebrity spotting’ while sitting in the shade drinking quarts of local beer. Some of the best screenings are those at night in one of the city’s open-air cinemas. Beer and snacks are being sold and lots of locals attend. Watching films with African audiences is quite a different experience from watching a film in a cinema in the UK. Cinema-going is a social event in Africa, with people enthusiastically discussing the events unfolding on screen, jumping up and shouting things at the protagonists and applauding to show their approval or protesting loudly if the plot goes in the wrong direction.
The selection of films at FESPACO 2011 did not disappoint. As has become somewhat of a trend over the last few years, the North African contingent of films was particularly strong, with a Moroccan film, “Pegase”, winning the grand prize. Second place went to Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “A Screaming Man”. Some said that Haroun should have won; his previous films such as “Abouna” and “Darratt” have been screened with wide acclaim internationally, also at Africa in Motion. Third place went to a film from Ivory Coast, “Le mec ideal”. These are just the main prizes, as lots of other awards went to the best documentaries, shorts, student films, actors, music, screenplays, editing, cinematography…My attendance at FESPACO was not only for my own post-doctoral research on the emerging film industries in East Africa, but also to source films for the Africa in Motion film festival. This means that you would be able to see many of these cinematic gems in Edinburgh come October. Watch this space!

Lizelle Bisschoff, Centre of African Studies

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Into Africa

Passport: One, British

Credit cards: Two, Mastercard in my wallet, Visa Debit in a pack of playing cards in my bag

Phones: two, cheap Sony Ericsson K750s. They account for most of the weight in my bag.

T-Shirts: three, plain, no logos, no Che.

Trousers: two pairs, one with too many pockets. I hate the look, I like the reassurance of buttoned pockets. Saves me doing that ridiculous, paranoid thigh-slapping dance every time someone brushes past me.

Shorts: None. I’m trying my hardest not to look like a gormless tourist. This helps with the tourist aspect.

Laptop: One. Insured.

Toothpaste: None. I guess I couldn’t take it on the plane anyway…

Books & Articles: Somewhere, a chiropractor is laughing.

Ticket: Three. London to Addis Ababa, Addis to Kampala, Kampala to Kigali.

Add a few strips of doxycyclin and a last minute plastic bag of shortbread from the parents, and that’s about it. On to Africa. The part of the Africa and International Development masters that attracted so many of us to the course in the first place.

My supervisor advised me two weeks ago that today would come rushing towards me faster than I expected, and in a wave of contact emails, vaccinations and ethical guidelines, he was right. He then commented, reassuringly, that field research itself feels a little like the moments before a car crash. Time slows down, everything comes into sharp focus, and the challenge is, within an academic framework, to allow your own thoughts to be shaped by what you see.

Perhaps oddly, I feel about as ready as I can be for the next six weeks. Six modules, rather than four as with the bulk of other Master’s degrees, mean that the last two semesters have acted as rigorous preparation. Equally – and I don’t write this just for the sake of it – the C.A.S. staff have been not only extremely supportive, but also genuinely interested in the work of their students: far beyond my expectations for post-graduate life. Tomorrow night I’ll be staying in a guesthouse they recommend in Western Rwanda, meeting contacts they put me on to, and researching a topic my supervisor shares a fascination with. Up the creek, for sure, but not without a paddle. Now it’s on me to produce 15,000 words that live up to their expectations.

So thanks again to the guys at C.A.S, and good luck to all of you embarking on the same journey. I’ll see you in Doctors Pub on the other side.

Hugh Lamarque, MSc student in Africa and International Development

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