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  • FESPACO—Promoting African Film Development and Scholarship
  • M. Africanus Aveh (bio)

if there is any single event that has significantly developed and promoted African film over the past half century, then it is the Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou (Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), or FESPACO, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa. The festival also has been a source of great scholarship in film studies.

Historical Development

At a meeting in Algiers in 1969, a group of African filmmakers decided to organize a “Film Week” to showcase African films produced on the continent and share creative ideas. The event was hosted in Ouagadougou, and its initial success led to the repeat of the event in the subsequent two years, with increased participation not only of filmmakers but also of attendees. This led to the formation of the Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes (Federation of Pan-African Filmmakers) with the acronym FEPACI. In 1972, the festival was instituted. It received official state support in Burkina Faso and was placed under a ministry. This marked the birth of the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou with the acronym FESPACO. For fifty years, FESPACO has grown to become the most significant event in the promotion and development of African film through its biennial festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It has become the converging point for showcasing African film as well as a congregation of the continent’s filmmakers in one place. But for this festival, little would have been known of Burkina Faso even by its neighbors in the region.

The Organizational Structure

FESPACO is organized as a body corporate headed by a chief executive and staff operating a secretariat located in Ouagadougou. It is currently headed by Ardiouma Soma. 1 The secretariat is funded with budgetary allocations from the Burkina government and donor support from international agencies. The secretariat also houses the African Film Library, established in 1989 to preserve African film heritage. The library boasts a collection of original prints of African films and a restoration center for processing films for storage. It is a major resource for African film research in the world. 2

The Festival Structure

FESPACO is a biennial film and television festival on specific themes. For the 2019 edition, the theme was “Memory and Future of African Cinema.” Calls are made for full-length films to be submitted in competition for the grand prize, which takes the form of a stallion named after a royal princess warrior, Yennenga. 3 Other categories in competition are short films, [End Page 58] documentaries, animation, television series, and student films from African film schools. Each competitive category has its own jury that adjudicates separately. Films in competition must be made by African nationals. There is, however, a Paul Robeson Prize for films made by Africans in the diaspora. There are non-competitive special prizes awarded by juries according to certain laid-down objectives. The festival also screens a selection of non-competitive films from around the world.

The dates of the festival are fixed, beginning on the last Saturday in February and ending on the first Saturday in March in odd years. There is an opening ceremony, normally held at the sports stadium on the opening Saturday evening, with musical fanfare, dances, and gymnastic displays. The festival is symbolically opened with a giant clapperboard operated by the prime minister. The closing ceremony on the evening of the last day also normally has taken place at the sports stadium, with the juries’ reports accompanied by the announcement of the winners of the awards in the various categories. Each winner is called to a podium to collect a statuette and a dummy check of the accompanying cash prize, culminating in the ultimate grand prize, which is presented by the president amid fanfare. After the awards ceremony comes a massive display of celebra-tory fireworks. In the past there was then a screening of the grand prize–winning film on a giant inflatable screen mounted in the middle of the soccer pitch. This has not been done for the past four or five festivals, so the closing ceremony...


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