This is the biggest film festival in Africa - occurring every odd numbered year in Ouagadougou, Burkina-Faso (alternating with a sister festival in Tunisia). It is huge! In the festival program, it lists 216 films that were screened plus last minute additions. It is impossible to take in every movie so you're forced to pick and choose. If you took full advantage of the festival and went to films every time you had the chance, you could feasibly watch up to six films a day or a maximum of 39 films in one week – not to mention some of those “films” were actually 3-5 shorts boosting the total even higher. Whatever the case, you had the opportunity to be fully immersed in African Cinema. There were international films from Europe and from across the Atlantic in the US but for the most part every film was from the African Continent. Those that weren't were either usually either made by an African or on a subject matter related to Africa. Here is a list of the movies I watched at the festival:
l **Barakat! by Djamila Sahraui (Algeria)
l ***Ezra by Newton Aduaka (Nigeria)
l **Tsotsi by Gavin Hood (South Africa/Great Britain)
l **Un Matin Bonne Heure (One Early Morning) by Gahite Fofana (Guinea)
l Homeland by Jacqueline Kalimunda (Rwanda)
l *500 Years Later by Owen Alik (United Kingdom)
l Le President a-t-il le SIDA? (Does the president have AIDS?) by Arnold Antonin (Haiti)
l **Blood Diamond by Edward Zwick (USA)
l **The Last King of Scotland (USA)
l ***Death of Two Sons by Micah Schaeffer (USA)
l Il était une fois... Sasha et Désire (Once upon a time... ...) by Cecile Vernant (France)
l L'ete de Nourra (Nourra's Summer) by Pascal Tessaud (France)
l Nyaman'Gauacou (Viande de ta mere/Meat of your mother) by Laurent Senechal (France)
That is all I can remember and since I saw a bunch of films that weren't listed in the program, I couldn't even look them all up. The more Astrixes I gave a film, the more I'd recommend seeing it. I left the day the festival ended so don't know which film won, but I would have put it between Ezra and Un Matin Bonne Heure (disregarding Tsotsi since it already won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006). Ezra is similar to Blood Diamond in that it deals with a war revolving around diamonds, but is much more touching coming from an African perspective. Un Matin Bonne Heure is about two young Guineans following their dreams trying to go to Europe. I would recommend any of the films I put an Astrix next to, however.
My trip to Ouagadougou was really just a continuation of my trip from Dakar and it was continuous. After arriving in Bamako in the afternoon from Kayes, I got on a bus the next morning for Ouagadougou. This trip had a lot in common with my original trip from Bamako to Kayes two weeks earlier... excruciatingly slow! I swear, the bus must have never reached a constant speed over 40 miles an hour! In fact, the route to Ouagadougou goes right through Segou (usually only a 3 hour drive East of Bamako) and after having already been on the bus for almost 5 hours at that point, I tried to get off but the bus driver wouldn't stop. I was so worn out by all the traveling I'd been doing that I actually argued with the bus driver the entire way through Segou pleading with him to just let me get off the bus – I didn't care that I would lose the price of my ticket; I just wanted off!
This was just another example of me attempting to ride an established “named” bus company only to be thwarted. I bought a ticket the day I arrived in Bamako with the same company that I came in on from Kayes. Since I had a good experience on that trip, I figured they would be a good choice to continue on to Ouagadougou. They sold me a ticket, told me to be at the bus station at 8am for a 9am departure. I was even the fourth person on the passenger list guaranteeing me a good seat (or at least my choice of the best seat from all the bad options). Never-the-less, when I arrived, they informed me that they were in fact not running a bus today and were escorting me across the street to a “partner” company (i.e. “no-name-will-be-a-long-ass-uncomfortable-trip-company”). Within ten minutes of leaving, I knew my supposed twelve hour trip was going to be a lot longer. I can't decide which is worse: driving extremely slowly but continuously or driving at a decent speed with frequent and long stops. This bus did both.
I won't go in to all the details but it was a combination of the worst parts of all my previous legs to and from Senegal combined only this time I was traveling alone. Kathy had decided to not attend this festival as she had some work to do back in Segou. I on the other hand was on a “tech-exchange” meaning I was going to FESPACO for work related reasons. I will get into that reason later, but for now I'll just say, I am looking into starting a film festival here in Segou and wanted to do some research and make some contacts within the film industry/community.
The total trip time was 30 hours from Bamako, Mali to Ouagadougou, Burkina-Faso. It amazes me the amount of hassle people are willing to put up with in order to travel. In fact, they don't really have a choice. Luckily, I am given fairly unfettered access when traveling around because of the good reputation of the Peace Corps and my passport identifying me as such. Everyone else gets hassled to no end. It is incredibly frustrating to see a fellow passenger given a hard time by the police, gendarme, boarder guards, or any other person of apparent authority. You know what is going on is wrong and that they shouldn't really have to pay this fee or that fee (i.e. bribe), but you can't step in for fear that the authority figure will turn their attention to you and demand a bribe from you. All the other passengers know this too and are affected in the same way. All they can do is bitch and complain to each other about how bad it is and find sympathy in each other but no real help since no one is willing to take the risk and be forced to pay something else (since they most likely have already had to bribe the official themselves). Sure, some of the fees are legal and necessary but only a limited few. Even of the legal duties and fees imposed, some are exorbitantly high. For instance, while waiting at the boarder between Senegal and Mali, I talked to a customs officer about some of the items people had had to leave at the boarder since they couldn't afford the tax to bring them in. There was a brand new full-size European made refrigerator just sitting there because the people transporting it couldn't afford the $400 plus tax to bring it in to the country. Imagine that - $400! I don't know how much that fridge even cost, but I'll bet it was a pretty big expense to whomever bought it. They got it all that way and then had to just leave it! What a shame. No, I am not an expert in these affairs, but it doesn't take an expert to see the injustice going on. If only these people would wake up and realize that by creating such barriers to travel and transportation of goods, they are but adding one more obstacle to their impoverished country's development.
Finally, just before 2am, my bus arrived in Bobo-Dioulasso, the first main town you arrive at in Western Burkina. Originally, I was supposed to transfer buses there and continue on to Ouagadougou but since we got in so late, we would have to spend the night and catch a bus early the next morning at 7am. Throughout the day, I had befriended a woman from Nigeria on her way back from Sierra Leone. She didn't speak any French or any Bambara so I had been helping her throughout the journey to buy food, water, talk to the officials, etc. She was in her early to mid 30s, a little taller than me and slightly heavyset. She was great to talk to, especially when she wasn't worrying and fretting over how much she was going to get extorted out of her at the next traffic stop. I never did get a clear answer as to what she was doing in Sierra Leone but whatever it was it seemed to be of some humanitarian nature. I believe she also had family over there. I never did get her name.
In any event, since we were being forced to spend the night in Bobo and we didn't have any previous accommodation arrangements and didn't much like the idea of wandering around a foreign city at such a late hour – we had to sleep on the ground at the bus station. I was able to arrange to rent a plastic mat for the night on which I could set up my mosquito tent. Since the Nigerian woman and I had been sort of looking out for each other throughout the journey (me helping with language, her mostly making sure the bus didn't leave without me, etc.) it seemed only natural for me to offer sharing my tent with her. I felt like I could trust her and was more concerned with all the other 100 or so stranded passengers sleeping at the bus station. I was traveling light with only two small day packs both of which fit easily into the tent above my head. Just as a precaution, I locked them together with a steel luggage cable. No problems there. It was the attempt to get some rest that was so difficult. The only place I could find to lay down was only a few feet from a blaring tv and a light that was not to be shut off. Of the four or so hours I was horizontal, I would optimistically put my sleep time at half of it.
I arrived at the Peace Corps transit house in Ouagadougou a little after 2pm – over 16 hours later than expected. I was supposed to meet up with the contingent of Malian volunteers in town for the festival but arriving almost a full two days late, I was exhausted. I took a shower and took a short nap. Since I couldn't sleep and felt eager to get out and see what was going on, I took a cab downtown to at least sort out my ticket for the festival. I wanted to catch up on watching films after missing so much time but knew I wouldn't be able to stay awake.
With a little preparation and some luck I was able to get the full pass, normally $55, for free. I came with an “Order de Mission” from my office back in Mali under the assumption that it might help me out a bit when getting a ticket. It essentially, said that I worked at the Ministry of Tourism in Mali and was there on their behalf from the Regional Office of Segou. It then asked them to do whatever they could for me to help me out. The luck came from my just happening to have a passport photo necessary for the pass. I walked into the official pass office and stated that I was there for my pass. The woman handed me the form, I handed her my Order de Mission and my photo and had a pass in my hands an hour later. Nice work Yuri, not so bad if I don't say so myself.
With my one objective for the day taken care of, I went back to the Peace Corps transit house to find some food and see if anyone I knew was around. No one was there that I knew but was shown some hospitality and guided to a great steak sandwich place down the street. It started getting late (read 8pm) and I was tired. I hung around a bit but realized they were probably all at films and decided to go to sleep among the sea of mattresses on the floor. I found the people I'd planned on meeting the next morning and went to the aforementioned movies having a grand ol' time touring around with my companions. I met the full quota of movies a day racking up over 15 films in three days. Not the exact experience I had hoped for after missing two days, but still a valiant effort. I picked up every flier I saw and was even able to score a meeting with the National Director of ONTB (Office Nationale de Tourisme Burkina-Faso), the Burkina equivalent of who I work for in Mali, OMATHO.
My trip back to Segou took a reasonable 16 hours. Sure it was four hours longer than it should have been but that paled in comparison to the 30 hours it took me to do the opposite trip. At the very least, I was home. I had no prospect to get on another bus for at least a month. I had had a great time and arrived back in Segou eager to get back to work. I had been away for quite a while and was fresh again to work on the projects I had planned out.
This is already a long post and I want to get into why I was doing a “tech-exchange” to FESPACO but want you all to be sure to read it so I will wait and write that in a separate post (hey at least this way you'll be coming back for the cliff-hanging continuation of my story right???). So I'll end it on that. Thanks for tuning in!
|Here are a few photos from all my travels...|
|WIAST and FESPACO|