Burkina Faso: Film Festival Fosters Hope in Violence-Torn Burkina Faso

Sira, a film directed by Apolline Traoré, is in the running for the Yennenga Gold Stallion at the 28th Fespaco.

As conflict and violence spread across the Sahel, Africa's biggest film festival, hosted in Burkina Faso, promotes fellowship in times of crisis.

In Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, the atmosphere is vibrant. The West African nation is hosting the 28th edition of the Ouagadougou Film and Television Festival (FESPACO).

Africa's biggest film festival, which takes place every two years, honors and promotes African filmmakers and showcases hundreds of African films in various categories.

This year's edition was officially launched by both the Prime Ministers of Burkina Faso, Apollinaire Joachimson Kyelem de Tambela, and Mali, Choguel Kokalla Maiga.

According to the organizers, inviting Mali as guest of honor to FESPACO was due to its geographical and socio-cultural proximity to Burkina Faso.

"[Mali] is a country with a cinematographic tradition," FESPACO advisor Guy Desire Yameogo told DW. "The choice of the country was not dictated by politics or external pressure. Mali has won the Etalon de Yennenga award three times."

Yameogo added that both countries also feel a kinship within their wider struggles.

"At a time when both countries are going through the same problems, it seemed necessary to turn to a brother country, a friend country."

United in conflict

This year's chosen theme -- "Cinema of Africa and Culture of Peace" -- also reflects the tense security context in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Last month, over 70 soldiers were killed, dozens wounded and give taken hostage following an ambush on a military convoy in northern Burkina Faso. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility. Over the past seven years, violence linked to Islamist extremists in Burkina Faso has killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people.

Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maiga used his visit to Ouagadougou to address the shared security threat in the region.

"We have been through this stage, he said. "At one point, in Mali, every day villages were razed to the ground."

"We knew very well why this was happening. The Malians stood their ground, and we ask you to stand your ground. We are sure that one day terrorism will be defeated in the Sahel."

Mali was plunged into its own security crisis in 2012 following a separatist rebellion. According to the European Commission, over 3.9 million people now require protection assistance

Burkinabe diplomat Antoine Somdah hopes that Africans can still enjoy the cultural element of the FESPACO festival amid difficult times.

"Some people wonder why we organize this kind of meeting when we have security problems, she told DW. "We must not politicise this kind of thing. It is a cultural component."

Women behind and in front of the camera

Fifteen films are up for the "Golden Stallion of Yennega" award for the best African film, chaired this year by Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha.

Just as many women as mean are competing for the award. But Bouchoucha says that's not surprising in her film industry.

"I'm not surprised because in this region, on this continent especially, there are many women working as filmmakers," she told DW.

"When I started, there were very few."

Sahel drama "Sira" from Burkinabe director Apolline Traore is one of the entries in the running for the top prize. The film about a young woman kidnapped by jihadists was also shown at the Berlinale film festival in Berlin, Germany earlier this month.

For Traore, it was important to stop painting women purely as victims in the ongoing conflict.

"[The women] are the ones in the camps," he told DW. "And they have to take their kids and then run. And that journey can be very long and difficult. How do they cope? How do they survive? And how do they keep those kids from going and getting enrolled in the terrorist groups themselves? Those women are such a big part of fighting against terrorists that we need to talk about it."

The importance of African stories

Traore's movie conveys a deep message about resilience and the place of women in the film industry. Her other message: Let African filmmakers tell African stories.

"I think that other places in the world have kind of lost or used their stories," she said. "They don't have any more stories to tell. They're coming to get it from us now, and they're taking our stories and they're telling our stories on the surface, but not going deep inside."

"We have to stand up and and show the West that we are able to tell our own stories."

Edited by: Ineke Mules

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