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Reviewed by:
  • La Sirène de Faso Fani. (The Siren of Faso Fani) by Michel K. Zongo
  • Justin Izzo
Michel K. Zongo, director. La Sirène de Faso Fani. (The Siren of Faso Fani). 2015. 90 minutes. French and Mossi, with English subtitles. France, Burkina Faso, and Germany. Diam Production, Perfect Shot Films, Cinédoc Films. No price reported.

In 2001 the government of Burkina Faso finished liquidating the Faso Fani textile factory in Koudougou, the country’s third largest city. This was the inevitable endpoint of a process that began in the early 1990s, when the [End Page 326] Burkinabe government agreed to implement Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in return for loans provided by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Among other stipulations, the now-infamous SAPs required the privatization of many state-owned companies, and the Faso Fani factory, once the pride of Koudougou, fell victim to these preconditions. Michel K. Zongo’s 2015 documentary, La Sirène de Faso Fani, explores the impact of the factory’s closure on its former employees, some of whom have gone on to become independent artisans eking out a living by weaving pagnes (lengths of printed or woven cloth popular in Francophone Africa) to fill bulk orders. Many other workers, however, have abandoned the city and returned to their home villages in the countryside.

Zongo’s fascinating film combines interviews with former employees of the Faso Fani factory with a more contemporary investigation of how artisanal textile production has continued, and even recently begun to flourish, in Koudougou since the factory’s liquidation. This production has become quite feminized: one woman remarks that she cannot even guess at the number of tisseuses (female textile weavers) in the city—and even more women are semiskilled and in need of adequate training from experienced artisans. Zongo’s documentary turns on the juxtaposition between, on the one hand, interviews about the factory’s glory days and the local impact of SAPs and, on the other, the foundation of a women’s textile cooperative capable of producing high-quality pagnes for sale both locally and throughout West Africa.

One reason that this juxtaposition works so well is that Zongo links these interrelated narrative avenues to the figure of Thomas Sankara, the Marxist revolutionary who came to power in a 1983 coup and led Burkina Faso until his assassination in 1987. Sankara’s politics were resolutely Third Worldist, and he advocated economic independence through the consumption of locally produced goods. He also championed the Faso Fani factory as a site where these localized networks of production and consumption might take shape. Zongo’s interviewees, almost exclusively middle-aged men, express wistful nostalgia for the optimism and enthusiasm of the Sankara days. By contrast, the younger women who began working in the cooperative have come to embody an updated Sankarisme, a valorization of high-quality, local artisanship in the age of social media. (Zongo includes a shot of the Facebook page started by the cooperative in order to reach a wider public.)

Zongo’s technical flourishes in La Sirène de Faso Fani mirror the thematic juxtaposition that drives his narrative. The bodies of his ex-factory worker interviewees fill his frames and draw us into both their reminiscences and their ongoing pain—pain caused not only by economic precarity but also by exposure to chemicals in the factory, which has led to ill health and, the men insist, undiagnosed medical conditions. Other shots, however, are given over entirely to the display and exposition of artisanal mastery. These include close-ups of hands moving shuttles deftly under and around pagnes in progress, or pulling rhythmically on the loom to set newly woven fabric [End Page 327] in place. These shots are mesmerizing, and Zongo complements such expressions of virtuosity with shots that highlight the brilliant colorways of the pagnes under production, lending a variegated richness to Zongo’s visual aesthetics. Perhaps the most provocative elements of the film’s constructions are the excerpts of old factory radio broadcasts that Zongo plays for his interviewees or overlays onto shots of everyday life in contemporary Koudougou. In these excerpts from the 1990s and early 2000s, a DJ...


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