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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 22:52 GMT
African film's hard search for backers
Orla Ryan
Fespaco film festival, Burkina Faso

Fespaco film festival, Burkina Faso
The pan-African film festival attracts star directors
One day, Rene Tankoano is going to direct his own movie.

"My ambition is to work on a feature film," the 34-year-old Burkinabe cameraman says.

"I would like to do it in Belgium."

It is a dream he shares with many in the cinema-mad West African country Burkina Faso.

And one that will be tough to achieve.

Earning just $75 (38) a month at a local television station, where he cut his professional teeth, Mr Tankoano has received little formal training.

"I don't have the money to go and train in Europe," Mr Tankoano says. "I don't have the means."

Lack of cinemas

African filmmakers are in Ouagadougou for the biennial pan-African film and television festival, Fespaco, where the best of film from around the continent is on display.

If you write in a newspaper, people read it and it is finished. When it is on screen, everyone sees it. Lots of people cannot read, everyone has eyes to see.
Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene

But despite the huge love of cinema and the popularity of these films, which tell stories from around the continent through the eyes of Africans, many budding and active film makers still find it hard to raise finance for their films.

With more than 200 films on show, the Independence Hotel, where many film directors stay, has been a frenzied hive of activity.

Like independent directors everywhere they have to beg, borrow and steal to finance their productions.

But conventional film business models do not work on a continent where there are few cinemas.

It is much harder to convince people to back to a film when the lack of a distribution network - that is a shortage of cinemas - make it hard to earn back their initial investment.

Different outlets

Many independent directors are at least part funded by European donors or film channels.

Fespaco film festival, Burkina Faso
African film makers struggle in their search for finance

"We have always traditionally been financed by institutions," explains Egyptian documentary maker Jihan el Tahri.

"How do we have access to funds that are private or different? How do we make films independent of institutional finance?"

Getting banks interested in financing films is not easy.

"It is difficult for a producer if there are no mechanics of funding, if banks are not interested in film products," laments veteran Burkinabe film director Gaston Kabore.

"Directors are forced to play many roles.

"They are scriptwriters, they are producers, they exhibit, they do promos, they are sellers. They wear so many hats and it is only one head."

Powerful stories

Some sell their films for little money to be broadcast on local television channels - the ones that take domestic output.

Fespaco film festival, Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso's people are mad about movies

Others choose creative ways of showing their films, such as broadcasting in stadiums or in bars.

The films on show at Fespaco are directed and acted by Africans, unmistakably representing an African view of the continent.

The torture of political prisoners, the abuse of Islam by politicians, illegal immigration and child soldiers are some of the subjects film makers are grappling with.

Mostly French language and often critically acclaimed, it can be difficult to find a market for them outside of the continent.

But strong storylines have resonance around the world, says African American actor Danny Glover, known for his roles in Lethal Weapon and a regular attendee at Fespaco.

"That is the advice I would give to film makers," he says.

"Build on your story.

"The power of telling your story creates another kind of universality between your stories and other stories in the world."

Visual impact

But for many, the strongest desire is to build an audience at home.

To tell African stories through African eyes, broadcast on the continent.

Tankoano, inspired by African greats such as Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, has known he wanted to work in film since he was 12 years old.

"When we were growing up, there were plenty of brothers who were making films," he says.

There is plenty you can say with film, Mr Sembene believes.

"If you write in a newspaper, people read it and it is finished. When it is on screen, everyone sees it.

"Lots of people cannot read, everyone has eyes to see."


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