Movie-goers thrilled at Africa's Cannes

Surreal, chaotic but mind-blowing was the verdict on Burkina Faso's 10-day celebration of African cinema
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The Independent Online

Africa's equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival comes complete with directors wearing sunglasses beside the swimming pool - but there the resemblances tend to end.

Africa's equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival comes complete with directors wearing sunglasses beside the swimming pool - but there the resemblances tend to end.

The Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (Fespaco) wrapped up last night here in the capital of Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries yet one with a rich film-making tradition.

Several thousand film-makers, actors, journalists and movie buffs descended on Ouagadougou for a week of deal-making and movie-watching. The city's hotels were jammed and the bars lining Avenue Kwame Nkrumah pulsed with parties while the temperature pushed 40 degrees.

"Surreal" is the word most often heard - along with "chaotic". Copies of some films failed to arrive on time. Technical hitches delayed several screenings. More serious is the dangerous disorder outside the most popular events. Two children were killed and at least 30 injured in the crush to get into the festival's opening ceremony at a football stadium, and cinema queues degenerated into shoving contests in which several people fainted.

Yet for all its faults, Fespaco draws praise for creating a celebration of African cultural expression like no other. "It's been truly mind-blowing to see so much enthusiasm for cinema from such a poor country," said South African director Teddy Mattera.

Citizens of Burkina Faso make up a healthy percentage of the festival audience and they cheer plot twists as if watching a football match. Fespaco also gets credited with being charmingly down-to-earth. Directors frequently attend screenings, mounting the stage to the accompaniment of a lone drummer batting out a rhythm on a little African tam-tam.

The only Hollywood name in attendance was Danny Glover, best known for the Lethal Weapon series, and he was shaking hands, kissing and posing for photos with anyone who asked. Hollywood's near-absence is partly blamed on the language barrier. French dominates the event.

"They call it a Pan-African festival but if they really want it to be that way they have to do something about the language issue," said South African director David Lister. That could be given a boost by the emergence of South African film-making at this year's event, with four in competition. As well as Mattera's Max and Mona, a dark comedy in which a Johannesburg bar owner tries to cash in on his nephew's ability to get people to cry at funerals, there was Drum, the compelling story of how a light and breezy magazine for blacks started reporting the evils of apartheid in the 1950s.

Elsewhere, audiences particularly cheered scenes in which characters defy authority: women and girls resisting female circumcision inMoolaadé; the lovable African veteran of the French armed forces battling to get his pension in Tasuma; the Arab man and white woman eloping in Morocco's Lovers of Mogador.

But the hometown favourite was undoubtedly Ouaga Saga, a feelgood comedy about a group of poor teenage buddies in Ouagadougou who go from rags to riches. It's pure escapism, but as director Dani Kouyaté says: "In Africa, we smile too, we laugh and we have hopes and dreams."