For nearly three years now, my friend Steve Elkins and I have been hosting film nights at Hibbleton Gallery, in which we've explored films from all over the world. This experience has inspired me to keep learning about other countries' movies, as a window into different cultures and worldviews. Currently, I'm researching the cinema of Africa. In a previous post, I wrote about the cinema of Angola. For this post, I will focus on Burkina Faso.
Like many African countries that were colonized and exploited by western powers, Burkina Faso has faced profound struggles and suffering. It became a French colony in 1896, and achieved its independence in 1960. From then to today, the government has been overthrown at least six times: in 1966, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1987, 2014, and 2015. Not surprisingly, Burkina Faso remains one of the least developed countries in the world, with a population of just over 17.3 million.
Despite all this, the cinema of Burkina Faso has become an important part of African film culture. In 1969, the country established its own film festival, FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou). Inspired by this, a regional film school was established which lasted from 1977-1987, Institut d'Education Cinématographique de Ouagadougou (INAFEC). Among the best known directors from Burkina Faso are Gaston Kabore, Idrissa Ouedraogo, and Dani Kouvate. Here are some important films from this country…
1.) Yaaba (Grandmother) directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo (1989) . Set in a small African village, Yaaba follows the relationship between Bila, a ten-year-old boy, and an old woman called Sana, who has been accused of witchcraft by her village, and has become a social outcast. Only Bila is respectful of her, and calls her "Yaaba" (Grandmother). When Bila's cousin, Nopoko, falls ill, a medicine man insists that Sana has stolen the girl's soul. Sana undergoes a long and grueling journey to find a medicine to save Nopoko's life. Yaaba won the Premio de la crítica internacional at Cannes Film Festival and the Sakura Gold prize at the Tokyo Film Festival. The film was the subject of a short documentary Parlons Grand-mere, which was shot during the film's production by Djibril Diop Mambety.
2.) Tilaï (The Law) directed by directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo (1990) Set in a pre-colonial African past, Tilai is about an illicit love affair and its consequences. Saga returns to his village after an extended absence to discover that his father has taken Nogma, Saga's promised bride, for himself. Still in love with each other, the two begin an affair, although it would be considered incestuous. When the liaison is discovered, Saga's brother, Koudri, pretends to kill Saga for the honor of the family and village. Saga and Nogma flee to another village, but when Nogma's birth mother dies, he returns home. Having brought ruin on the family, Saga is shot by Koudri, who walks off into exile and probable death. Tilaï won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival.
3.) Wend Kuuni (God's Gift) directed by Gaston Kabore (1983). In pre-colonial times a peddler crossing the savanna discovers a child lying unconscious in the bush. When the boy comes to, he is mute and cannot explain who he is. The peddler leaves him with a family in the nearest village. After a search for his parents, the family adopts him, giving him the name Wend Kuuni (God's Gift) and a loving sister with whom he bonds. Wend Kuuni regains his speech only after witnessing a tragic event that prompts him to reveal his own painful history.
4.) Buud Yam directed by Gaston Kabore (1997). It is the sequel to the film Wend Kuuni. As of 2001, it was the most popular African film ever in Burkina Faso. The film draws on the African oral tradition. Set in a nineteenth century village, it follows a group of characters from Kaboré's debut film Wend Kuuni. A young man is suspected of being responsible, through the use of sorcery, for his adopted sister's ill health. To help his sister, and clear his name, he tries to find a healer who uses the legendary "lion's herbs". He also searches for his own roots. In 1997, Buud Yam was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It won the Etalon de Yennega (the Grand Prize) at the 15th Ouagadougou Panafrican Film and Television Festival.
5.) Kini and Adams directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo (1997). Somewhere in southern Africa, in a huge region populated by poor peasants, two friends dream of a better life, far from their village, and decide to leave and make their dream come true. To leave, they attempt to repair an old car with second-hand spare parts, but their family and friends make fun of them. Little by little, their impetus dies down and so does their friendship. Finally, bitterness and jealousy put an end to the friendship between the two men and they become fierce enemies. Kini and Adams was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury prize at the 1998 Bermuda International Film Festival.