Here's What You Need To Know About Africa's Biggest Film Festival

Here are some of the films showing at the annual Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou this Sunday.

When Hollywood celebrates its film industry this Sunday at the Oscars, African filmmakers will be vetting their own at the Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la television de Ouagadougou (The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou or FESPACO) in Burkina Faso. This year, the 25th celebration of FESPACO will take place from February 25 to March 4.

Since 1969, thousands of film lovers and filmmakers in West Africa have come together, every two years, for the continent’s preeminent film festival and competition. Feature filmmakers compete for the Golden Stallion (or L’Étalon de Yennega), the highest award granted at FESPACO. In 1969 only 23 films from five African countries were screened. This year’s festival will feature over 150 films under the theme “Training and trades in Film and Audiovisual," and honor films from the Ivory Coast.

The festival is so important to Brazilian academic, Janaína Oliveira, that, for her, it’s worth passing up Rio de Janeiro's carnival festivities. This will be her fourth year in attendance, and she returns to Ouagadougou to showcase two Afro-Brazilian films with the support of the Brazilian Embassy.

Over the years, the FESPACO has left a strong cultural impact on Ouagadougou, because it’s a festival for the people. During the week, thousands of locals watch and discuss films in neighborhood open-air cinemas. When filmmaker Barbara Allen attended the festival in 2011 she was told that if a young man in Ouagadougou wants to show a girl that he is respectable, the first place he takes her is to the cinema, the second date you can go to a restaurant, but the cinema is always first, to prove you're worthy.

Check here, for in-depth coverage of the festival.

Below are some the most anticipated films of this year's festival.

Felicité by Alain Gomis (Senegal)

French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis arrives at FESPACO on a professional high—Felicité won the Jury Grand Prix at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. His last film in 2013, Aujourdhui, starred slam poet Saul Williams and Aïssa Maïga and won the Golden Stallion. He hopes to repeat that with Felicité. In this film, the protagonist, Félicité, sings in a bar in Kinshasa. When her 14-year-old son has a motorcycle accident, she goes on a frantic search for him through the streets of Kinshasa and is sucked into a world of music and dreams.

Frontières by Apolline Traoré (Burkina Faso)

Traoré’s first short film, The Price of Ignorance, won the jury prize at FESPACO in 2000. Since then, the Burkinabe has debuted every one of her films and series at the festival, but she's yet to win the Golden Stallion statue. She hopes to change that with her third feature film, Frontiéres, which is about three women who meet while traveling by bus on the Dakar-Bamako-Cotonou route via Ouagadougou to Lagos. The trip is a journey of struggle. Under the grueling sun, in the middle of nowhere, the women endure car breakdowns and encounter road bandits.

The Wedding Ring by Rahmatou Keïta (Zin’naariya!) (Niger)

Niger’s Rahmatou Keïta has been making films for more than 25 years, but The Wedding Ring is only her second feature film. In The Wedding Ring, a young woman has returned to her home in Niger after completing her degree abroad. She is dealing with the pain of a lost love when a spiritual adviser convinces her that she needs a wedding ring.

Fre by Kinfe BANBU (Ethiopia)

West African francophone films usually dominate the FESPACO film lineup, so an Ethiopian film is a treat. The film focuses on the life of a widowed father and his daughter's struggle. After his daughter was raped, the father faces challenges as he tries to save his sexually abused daughter. The film shows how tables can turn in the blink of an eye.

Accra Power by Sandra Krampelhuber (Ghana/Austria)

Sandra Krampelhuber began her fascination with West African mega-cities in Dakar, Senegal. She produced the 2014 documentary 100% Dakar, which is a portrait of the city’s creative arts scene. She returns with Accra Power, a documentary film whose title acknowledges the Ghanaian capital’s dubious relationship with energy. Accra Power provides an eclectic mix of perceptions of power in one of Africa's thriving urban centers. It outlines the creative and artistic strategies of young Ghanaians situated at the crossroads of tradition, various belief systems, technological and economic growth, infrastructural deficits, and the current energy crisis.

L’Orage: Un Continent Sous Influence Africain by Sylvestre Amoussou (Benin)

In 2006, filmmaker Sylvestre Amoussou produced the dystopian film Africa Paradis, in which he imagined how the world would look if African countries had colonized Europe and the Americas instead. He returns with L’Orage: Un Continent Sous Influence Africain, a movie about an imaginary African country that's rich in natural resources, yet facing an economic crisis.

La Promesse by Fatou Touré (Senegal)

The film relates the story of Sophie who tries to build a beautiful universe around her husband Babacar and her two children. On a rather unusual day, betraying their promises, Babacar announces to Sophie that he has taken a second wife. Sophie experiences intense emotional shock and withdraws into total silence.

Kemtiyu Seex Anta by Ousmane William Mbaye (Senegal)

Cheikh Anta Diop has been gone for almost 30 years, and it's taken just as long for someone to deliver a documentary about the legendary Senegalese historian and kemetist. Diop is partly responsible for the renewed interest in the study of black civilizations like Egypt. Before 1950, much research on African civilizations was conducted from a Eurocentric point of view. Diop attempted to change that. This documentary is one of the first films to be financed by a new film fund in Senegal.


The Ethiopian Government Has Asked Olympic Runner In Exile, Feyisa Lilesa, to Return Home

After two years in exile, the Olympic athlete will return home and receive a "hero's welcome."

Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian runner who went into exile in 2016 after bravely protesting the Ethiopian government's brutal treatment of its Oromo population at the Rio Olympics, has been invited to return to home.

After living in self-imposed exile United States for two years the marathoner, who demonstrated by crossing his fists as he reached the finish line and claimed the silver medal, has been extended an offer to return to his homeland and compete for his country once again by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and the country's Olympic committee. According to VOA News, the runner will return home in the coming weeks with his wife and children.

"Athlete Feyisa Lilesa has scored great results at the Rio Olympics and other athletics competitions enabling Ethiopia's flag to be hoisted to great heights," read a joint letter from the two athletics organizations.

"We want Lilesa to return to his home country to resume his athletics competition and upon his return we are prepared to give him a hero's welcome."

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Image via GovernmentZA's Flickr.

Could Justice Finally Be on the Horizon for Marikana Massacre Families?

New evidence suggests that the police intended to kill all along.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, when 34 mine-workers were gunned down by police after several days of wage disputes at Lonmin Mine in Rustenburg, North West province. New information was recently uncovered that undermines the police's longstanding claim that they acted in self-defence. If anything, it is a glimmer of hope for the families of the victims that remain left behind in the aftermath of that tragedy.

It was the worst mass civilian killing since the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, where South African protesters were killed for opposing the Apartheid regime. The Marikana Massacre, in contrast, was the tragic consequence of week-long wage disputes and clashes between miners and the South African police.

While media footage appears to show the miners as the victims, police have always argued that they were acting in self defence. Consequently no officers involved have been charged. Instead, the surviving mineworkers face murder charges under the doctrine of common purpose. But unnerving facts have come to light that seem to make the police argument even less likely. This includes the ordering of 4000 rounds of live ammunition and several vans from the mortuary the day before the massacre.

I cannot even begin to unpack my anger and frustration at this terrible irony.

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Remembering Aretha Franklin and Her Heartfelt Connection With Nelson Mandela

In honor of the Queen of Soul's immeasurable impact, we revisit her passionate support of Nelson Mandela, and the anti-apartheid movement, through her musical tributes.

Iconic singer, Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul" passed away on Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin was considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time. Her influence on popular music cannot be overstated. The legendary artist sold 75 million records and earned 18 Grammys in a career spanning six decades and she was influential in many global social movements as well.

Having been a widely-embraced public figure for so long, Franklin was present for some of the biggest events of the 20th century, including the funeral of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.

Upon Mandela's release, the singer played a unique role in welcoming him to the States by performing at a freedom rally in his honor in Detroit. Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Stevie Wonder were also in attendance for the historic night. During the celebration, Franklin called the anti-apartheid leader on stage, where he spoke about listening to and appreciating "the Detroit, Motown Sound" while he was in prison.

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