During an edition of Fespaco, Ouagadougou plunged into a festive atmosphere. It's a tradition. Indeed, for several years, each edition of the biennale has changed the face of the Burkinabe capital somewhat: here and there shopping streets that are always full, hotels and restaurants that are overflowing with customers while the headquarters of the event, the headquarters of the Festival, teems with people until late at night. Not to mention those long lines of moviegoers in front of the (few) dark rooms which, on ordinary days, interest few people... In the imagination of some, it is this enthusiasm which serves as a barometer of the success of a comparative edition of Fespaco to another. Beyond that, this is how the very state of form of the 7th African art is gauged. Exactly: what state is African cinema in? What challenges does he face? What prospects? Questions that deserve to be asked, when, according to Unesco, the cinema industry could create 20 million jobs in Africa and generate 20 billion dollars in revenue per year.
Under a giant marquee erected within the courtyard of the Fespaco, the International Film and Audiovisual Market is in full swing. Stands juxtaposed to each other house exhibitions from different African countries participating in the Festival as well as national and international structures involved in the 7th art or in the audiovisual sector. This space, initiated in 1983, is reserved each edition for the promotion of cinema from the continent, for exchanges between producers, distributors, project leaders and Fespaco broadcasters. Twenty-one editions after the first Mica, the development issues of African cinema that are generally discussed there remain topical. On the front line: training, technical means, financing of productions, quality and competitiveness of African films outside the continent.
Beyond access to ticket offices, there is the question of the economic model of cinema on the African continent, even if "different from one region of the continent to another". At least, according to Boukary Sawadogo, professor of cinema at City University of New York in the United States, specialist in African cinemas and author of several books including Les Cinémas francophones ouest-africains (Éd. Harmattan, 2013). This researcher, former member of the Film Fiction Commission of the International Organization of La Francophonie, points to the absence of a "local and sustainable ecosystem", apart from TV series which are supported, in their majority, by funding from TV channels. television.
Listening to the professionals, it's not just the production segment that is encountering "blockages". Almost all other value chain components are affected. Malian director Bouna Cherif Fofana thinks African film professionals still have a long way to go in terms of distribution. In question, the insufficiency of the projection rooms. “Apart from Burkina, it is not easy to find a country on the continent that has at least five cinemas in its capital. What's the point of making movies if there are no theaters to show them? asks the director. And to rely on the example of his country: "In Mali, we have only one functional room and other dilapidated ones that we have wanted, for a long time, to see rehabilitated, but without follow-up. In the regions there are almost no halls. How can cinema work without a theater? he continues. "In Côte d'Ivoire, we only have six screens while we wait for others to be set up. Six screens for an entire country is not enough, ”says producer and director Abel Kouamé.
There is also the issue of training. "A lot of young people today make films without prior training. But without training in this area, it sins a lot. Because we are not in a position to be able to obtain funds, to be selected for major festivals which are places for project discussions and major decisions, "says Bouna Cherif Fofana. On the same question, technician Amath Niane shows confidence and optimism: "In 2023 and in the years to come, we can no longer accept that we make films without some techniques because there has training institutes on the mainland. In West Africa alone, we have them in Burkina, Senegal and other countries. And to recognize African technicians as an "acceptable level" which, on the other hand, needs to be "raised further". The same goes for film professor Boukary Sawadogo, who notes that "more and more quality films are shot and edited entirely in Africa", despite the need for training brought about by the digital age, which he calls "democratization of access to the film tool".
What prospects for the continent's cinema? In terms of production, "we have to be able to strengthen the resources available to the counters. This requires the proper understanding and knowledge of decision makers in the specific film and audiovisual sectors. […] The producers will have to be more structured, that they understand that being a producer is really business beyond the artistic aspect”, suggests Abel Kouamé. Moreover, opinions converge on the need to increase training, to bet on co-production and to increase the number of meeting places in the image of Fespaco which is, for many, as for Dramane Traoré, a young Malian director, "a school for the self-taught".
There are many expectations from the State regarding the financing of productions and the establishment of a sustainable ecosystem. In this regard, Boukary Sawadogo seems seduced by the Nollywood model in Nigeria, where the local private sector is at the forefront of initiatives. Besides, the researcher recommends the creation by States of legal and incentive frameworks, for example by granting consistent production credits. All this is not enough and Boukary Sawadogo explains why: "We must produce from Africa critical knowledge on the cinema of the continent. We make films, we present them to the public, but afterwards we have to produce critical knowledge about these cinemas. This is what will remain for posterity and feed the reflection on the state of cinemas. There are, of course, books on African cinema, but by Western authors. So there is an imbalance of films produced in Africa, aimed at African audiences but critical knowledge that is elsewhere and distributed elsewhere. It is up to us Africans to speak about our cinemas to the world from Africa. In other words, it is a matter of decolonizing cinematographic knowledge. In Africa, we have great masters of cinema. The challenge is to write about these greats and make it useful in the curricula of training schools. »
To talk about the future of African cinema, dreams, optimism and pessimism collide. “The film market is not at its best. But today, there is still a progression that is noticed; cinemas are opening or reopening, the number of cinema admissions is increasing after having fallen during the Covid. There are the opportunities offered by new platforms such as My Canal, OTT, TV5 plus and global players such as Netflix", judge Abel Kouamé.