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Date: Tue, 14 Mar 95 15:16 EET

After Cinema Fest Comes the Hangover

By Brahima Ouedraogo, 14 March 1995

OUAGADOUGOU, Mar 14 (IPS) - The Pan-African film festival Fespaco ended last week with organisers congratulating themselves on a huge success. But after the hooplah comes harsh reality -- the very insecure world of African cinema.

From a small event first organised by a group of friends in 1969, Fespaco has snowballed into an international cultural event, which this year drew representatives from 66 countries.

Visitors to the 14th Fespaco included celebrities such as Senegalese film guru Sembene Ousmane and South African Deputy Culture Minister Winnie Mandela.

Thousands of film lovers and hundreds of directors, distributors and producers attended the week-long event making Burkina Faso's capital bubble with energy.

To mark the centenary of film, the theme of this year's festival was "cinema and history." Prizes were awarded to film and video productions assessed in various categories.

The Malian production Guimba carried off the "Yennenga Stallion," the prize for the best full-length feature film.

Set in a changing Africa in the early 1990s, the 102-minute-long feature depicts the monopolisation of power in a village.

''This film is fiction that takes its roots in today's reality on the continent, pulled apart between tyrants and democrats,'' explained producer Cheick Oumar Cissoko, who now has four films under his belt.

Some consider the film a satire of the regime of former Malian president Moussa Traore, overthrown in a coup in 1991 after his forces killed hundreds of demonstrators demanding the end of oppression and one party rule.

Cissoko, a caustic critic of the regime at that time admitted, ''politics have led me to the world of cinema.''

Guimba, which cost about 1.4 million dollars, has been praised for its use of the African oral tradition, languages, clothes and actors. It won no less than nine special prizes at the festival, including a prize awarded by the Organisation of African Unity and one from the European Union.

And Guimba was not the only successful film screened here. Generally, critics agreed, the quality of the films was high this year.

But now that the festival has ended, many African film makers and fans have something of a hangover.

Many of the films screened at Fespaco may be doomed to gather dust until the next festival is staged.

African film makers are still battling for adequate distribution to gain a foothold in the Europe and American markets. Cissoko explained that he wrote to distributors in many countries to get Guimba on the screens, but ''so far we have only contacts for distribution in Mali and in Burkina Faso.''

''I am asking Europeans to strive to learn our culture so that they can understand our films. At school we learned their culture and that is why we accept their movies,'' he added.

According to some, the continent's film makers -- hassling with insufficient funding -- should opt to make video films. That way, they argue, Africa will be better able to compete with cheaper films from abroad.

''Cinema is very expensive and video seems to be the only way out for African movie makers'' said Jean Maou, a French consultant. A feature film, Maou said, costs around 200,000 dollars at least, while a video can be made for as little as 7,000 dollars.

Cissoko, however, was hopeful that African film has a future without film makers having to resort to cheaper alternatives.

''Through solidarity between movie makers and regional solidarity we can do better so that cinema will survive. We have the staff for good productions, countries must now sign agreements for co-productions,'' he recommended.

Kenyan Director Ann Mungai suggested that African films be given preferential treatment to enhance their chances on the world market.

Her documentary Usilie Mtoto wa Africa (Don't Cry Child of Africa) was named best television and video film. This short film shows the plight of a young street girl in Nairobi seeking her mother who has fled from economic hardships at home caused by her husband's drinking.

Opinion here was also divided over the future of Fespaco itself, as some people suggested that Fespaco become itinerant in future, visiting the continent's countries in turn.

Permanent secretary of Fespaco, Filipe Sawadogo strongly objected. ''The French festival of Cannes or the Festival of Venice will never go to another European country. Nomadism never serves a purpose.''