FESPACO fatigue hits African cinema

Historically, Ouagadougou's film festival has been the ultimate showcase for African films. But recently the Cannes and Berlin festivals have opened up to African cinema, threatening to eclipse what the Festival Panafricain du Cinema de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) once was.

A fire a month before opening night (the 2013 festival ran 23 February-2 March) ravaged FESPACO'S new building in Ouagadougou, but other festivals were already preparing to challenge its grip on African cinema.

Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) has arguably become the festival-par-excellence on the continent.

Last year DIFF hosted around 750 accredited South African and international film-makers, industry professionals and guests.

Participants say FESPACO lacks the professionalism an international festival requires.

Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun said of the 2011 edition: "The amateurism of the organisation is deplorable. A lot of the films that have won awards here have had no international recognition."

Others agree the focus has shifted away from FESPACO.

"The most important thing for our films is to get them selected in a major film festival such as Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance or Venice," Steven Markovitz, producer of the 2010 block-buster Viva Riva!, said.

"These festivals give the film an important platform to get noticed by potential buyers."

Markovitz says that Berlin is more accessible for African filmmakers.

The Berlinale organisers pride themselves on showcasing off-the-radar cinema, and they have also done a lot to put African cinema on the world stage.

"Durban, the FilmMart, is growing in importance. And while there are fewer buyers than at the big festivals, they have more time for you," says the producer, who is currently working on African Metropolis, a series of seven portraits of the home cities of African filmmakers.

At the Durban FilmMart Finance Forum, 23 feature and documentary projects were selected from a long-list of 110 to participate in pre-arranged meetings with guest financiers, distributors and sales agents.

The African Movie Academy Awards, founded in 2005, may also be a challenge to FESPACO.

The Nigerian gala night for 'Africa's Oscars' attracts 5,000 film professionals and has risen fast because of its links to Africa's largest film industry, Nollywood


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