The Pan African Film Festival

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March 7th 2005
Published: April 15th 2006
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I spent my week in Burkino Faso at FESPACO - the Pan African Film Festival. The festival is held in Ouagadougou every other year. This year was the first time that a South African film won the major award and only the 2nd time that an English language film has won.

The film that won, Drum was a very good film, but it wasn't my favourite. My favourite was another South African film, Max and Mona - it was funny and that goat was a star! During the week I watched a lot of films, some of them were dreadful, a few were world class, and well worth an international release outside Africa. I've been to quite a few film festivals and it is quite usual to have to sit through some bad films! The festival was good value for money, it only cost 10000CFA's for a pass that allowed me to see all the films, thats only about 10 pounds sterling.

Back to where I was at the end of the last blog.


In the morning I went to the place where I had got the FESPACO film festival catalogue. I asked them about paying for films. Eventually I got someone who could tell me where I could buy a pass. I walked to the other site and bought a pass for 10000CFA's. It took a while to find the woman who was selling the passes - she was hidden in a corner. I visited the internet and then hid from the heat till 4pm. At 4pm I returned to the internet to finish the blog only to have the connection fail, losing a large amount I had just typed. I gave up and went to get something to eat. The hamburger I was served was stone cold! I sent it back. I rushed from the cafe to the festival. I watched a film called Drum, which was very good, and deserves and international release. It won the competition.

At 8.30pm I went to a very upmarket restaurant, spending 14000 CFA's. Walking back from the restaurant I bumped into Charlie and his African girlfriend. We went to another film - a Moroccan film about a migrants return to his homeland. It was rubbish. It was the sort of film that was supposed to be meaningful, but wasn't, the director was disappearing up his own backside.

After that we went to a cafe, they ate, I only had a beer. We then went onto a nightclub, where I was seriously hit on by the women in the club. It was funny being that popular! I'm sure it was nothing to do with my conversation or looks! I staggered home at some unearthly hour - some time after 3am.


I went to the internet in the morning, returned to the Hotel and slept - believe it or not I was tired! At 5pm, I went out and walked around. At 6.30pm I went to the festival to see the Cuban film Scent of Oak. They had technical difficulties and it was very late starting and therefore didn't finish till 9.30pm. The film was long and not very good - there were a few lines that were memorable, such as the speech by the Haitian woman at the end.

I went back to the Hotel and had a shower. I was intending to watch another film, but gave up because I was too tired.


In the morning I went to get a Visa for Ghana. I was told to come back at 1pm on Friday, to collect my passport. I then spent some time shopping. I needed to buy another towel as I had lost it again! When I bought the towel I was then besieged by street traders trying to sell me everything under the sun. The guy selling the towel asked to 7000CFA! I told him I had seen towels in the supermarket for 2500. He tried to plead that his quality was better. Frankly I didn't give a damn about quality. So I walked away. He chased me down the street and took 2,500. Of the legions of traders who then followed me around the only ones I was interested in were the ones selling shirts. My 2 shirts are getting tatty. Again it took a lot of bargaining. I had decided I wasn't paying above 5000CFA ( 5 pounds sterling). I got my price - although I had to walk away again, this time into a supermarket. When I came back out the trader was waiting for me and accepted my price.

After a long lunch, I watched 3 films in the evening. 2 of the venues were 20 minutes walk apart - so it was a rush to get between the films.

At 4pm I saw Sweet Honey in the Rock, a 'worthy' film in the Paul Robeson Price for films from outside Africa - the African diaspora.

I had arranged to meet a Polish guy I had met in Bankass at the next film, but I arrived a few minutes late and didn't see him. This film was Zulu Love Letter, and was in the main film festivals competition. It had pace and kept me spell bound. Another good South African film.

The last film of the day was Beat the Drum. I missed the first few minutes because it was such a rush between the venues. This was another well produced South African film, about a worthy subject, this time AIDS orphans.


I did some more shopping in the morning, I replaced my trousers. My old trousers were full of holes.

I watched another 3 films in the evening - this time 2 out 3 of them were pants!

The first film was an American documentary called 'Unbought, Unloosed'. It was a worthy subject, about a now dead American black politician. Frankly, it was badly directed, the film quality was poor, and I kept looking at my watch, hoping the damn thing would end! It looked like it had been made on a tiny budget, and the lack of budget showed!

The next film at 6.30pm, Namibia Crossings, also bored me rigid. It really was hard work staying awake.

After 2 films that had bored me rigid, I was feeling tired and doubted if I should go for my 3rd film of the day. But, I was a glutton for punishment.

In fact the last film of the day, Valley of the Innocent was a huge improvement. A film-maker, unlike the others in the day that deserved to be let loose with a camera.


I did nothing all morning and at 1pm collected my passport with its new Visa. Only to be told that I could have collected it yesterday. I'm sure he told me Friday.

I had a long lunch break, and went to see a film at 4pm. This next film was my favourite of the festival. I thought it deserved to win. It didn't. But then, what do I know? I'm no film critic. The film Max and Mona, was well acted, it has pace, action and I cared what happened to the characters. Added to this it was funny. That may be the reason it was my favourite. After so many films that had worthy and meaningful subjects it was nice to leave the cinema with a smile on my face! It was another South African film set in J'bourg. If it gets an international release outside Africa, I would recommend everyone to go and see it.

I then took a break. At 8.30pm I went to see El Manara. Another good film, even if it was in Arabic, and only subtitled in French. Parts of it were very disturbing. Then at 10.30pm I decided to go and see Max and Mona again!


I left the hotel at 8am. None of the shared taxi's wanted to stop - I had hit rush hour. I needed to leave Burkino Faso because my Visa was only for 7 days.

A young man offered me a lift on his moped. He didn't really know what he was doing - so I got a bit of an tour to the city. He had to give up, because it wasn't his bike and he had to return it. He delivered me to a taxi. The taxi took me to the main garage.

I bought a ticket and waited for the car to fill. We left the station at about 10.30am. The driver managed to run out of petrol twice - he claimed it was because his car was drinking petrol like it was going out of fashion.

We arrived at Bologatanga, a town near the border in Ghana at 3pm. From there I got a minibus - again I had to wait for it to fill. The station at Balgetanga seemed to be full of very shabby looking beggars.

Eventually I got to Tamale at 7pm. It was dark. I asked a woman the way to the nearest hotel. She seemed worried that it wouldn't be good enough for me. I told her I wasn't fussy, if it had running water it would be luxury!

She lead me to the Alhassan Hotel around the corner from the central market and bus station. It is dingy and shabby, the rooms are hot, but the electrics and the water works. The corridor that the rooms lead off is dark and has an institutional feel. I'm sure it would make a great prison. The sheets have the name of the hotel printed on them - I suppose in case you are tempted to pinch them! The advantage of the place is that it is central.

My guide left, saying she would check in on me tomorrow. She didn't ask for any money!


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