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Conclusion Jean-Marie Teno’s lyrical documentary Sacred Places (2009) unfolds in the small, poor neighborhood of Saint Léon in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, during the 2007 FESPACO Pan-African film festival. It returns to an old conundrum: African cinema, like the many films shown at FESPACO, is not within the reach of African audiences. Teno tells us early in the film that he has come to St. Léon on the recommendation of a friend who scolded him for staying in fancy hotels during his time in Ouaga instead of experiencing its “paradise,” and its music, literature, and cinema. Teno explains in voice-over that during his encounter with St. Léon, he has “rediscovered” the joy of sharing his work with this “remarkable audience,” which he laments has been shut out of the festival since it discontinued the tradition of free open air film screenings. Adopting a subjective and self-reflexive style, the camera moves through this paradise, St. Léon, capturing its character and rhythms and meeting its central personalities: the djembefola, Jules César Bamouni; Nanema Boubakar, the owner of the local video parlor; and Abbo, the engineer, who calls himself a public writer and comes to the neighborhood each day to write a few thoughts in chalk on a large wall. The camera never presents itself as a distant, objective eye. People look directly into it as they walk by; children smile and stare as they run across its path. At various points, we hear Teno speak warmly to his interlocutors, and his voiceover narration reflects, throughout, on the film festival and the failed promises of African cinema. Closed off from the high-priced film screenings, the residents of St. Léon frequent Boubakar’s Ciné Club to watch pirated DVDs of Hollywood and Bollywood movies on a large television screen for about the equivalent of ten cents. Boubakar explains that all of his “film fans” want to see African films, and the people Teno interviews affirm that they love films like Yaaba (1989) and Buud Yam (1997). But these films don’t appear often, and when they do, are far too expensive 196 / Conclusion to see in a movie theater. Boubakar complains that a VHS tape of an African film can cost as much as twenty-five dollars, while a bootleg DVD of a Wesley Snipes film rents for as little as fifty cents. In the documentary’s rhetoric, St. Léon functions as a metonym for ordinary Africans who have no access to serious African cinema, a cinema that purports to contain their history and culture. At the end of the film, Teno casts this paradox as metaphor: “The African filmmaker before his audience” is like “a guy who wants children with his beloved without ever touching her.”1 The filmmaker, in other words, longs for his films to be seen in Africa by Africans, but he is unwilling to do what he needs to do in order for Africans to have access to his films. Though I am completely charmed by this beautifully shot and edited documentary, and by its subjects and the stories they tell, the project strikes me as strangely out of sync, or out of date, with what has been happening with video in African neighborhoods just like St. Léon for over thirty years. Haven’t the popular video industries in Ghana and Nigeria offered one solution to the problems contemplated in Sacred Places? And in a documentary about African cinema and African audiences , why was there no mention made of African popular movies? I asked Teno these questions, and he told me that he captured what he saw, that Nollywood movies were not screened at the Ciné Club during the three weeks he was in St. Léon.2 This explanation seems plausible, but African popular video, a cinema that does precisely what Teno wants African film to do, raises questions crucial to the documentary ’s central premise: namely, it troubles the claim that Africans have no access to their cinema. Boubakar tells Teno that “African directors and producers need to conquer this market.” It is in the “ghetto,” the name he uses to refer to his neighborhood, “where it’s happening. We’re the ones who love these films.” And it seems that Ghanaian and Nigerian videomakers have offered filmmakers a model for how they might reach local audiences. The residents of St. Léon, in response to Teno’s prompts, describe the pleasures of cinema...


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