It was not the favorite to win (that honor goes to "Timbuktu") but "Fievres" by the French-Moroccan filmmaker, Hicham Ayouch, took the top prize at the 24th Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) on Saturday, March 7 at the awards ceremony, the Palme d’Ouagadougou, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, which is comparable to the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
"I have white skin, but the blood flowing in the veins is black. My father is Moroccan, my mother is Tunisian. I am African and I am proud of it," said Ayouch to the applause of 5,000 spectators at the Palais des Sports in Ouaga, as he dedicated his prize to Africa.
The director, known for his provocative work, in his latest film, tells the tumultuous tale of a 13 year old boy, displaced and prone to violence, who learns that he has a father, after his mother is sent to prison, and he’s sent to live with his father in a Parisian suburb.
Central to the film is the question of how to the two will learn to become father and son for the first time. The extravagance of the film lies in its approach to the cultural identity among immigrants and practicing Muslims, the so-called "paralyzed," in the form of a young son, lost and disenchanted. It’s all enhanced by a handheld camera that reinforces the nervousness and tension between the young boy and the father’s apathy.
"To change things, it takes work, it takes love and we must raise awareness," said Hicham Ayouch, speaking to socio-political unrest within the continent, and specifically in the host country, citing Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary president and hero at the center of several films that had made headlines during the 24th Fespaco, each, in some way, honoring the life of the once president of Burkina Faso who was assassinated in 1987 during a coup that brought Blaise Compaoré to power.
"Even though I grew up in France, I feel deeply African," he added. Born in 1976 in Paris, Hicham Ayouch is the younger brother of the 2011 Golden Stallion winner Nabil Ayouch ("The Horses of God"). "Fievres" is his third feature. His top prize win is also a tribute to the festival’s opening up its "in competition" film selections to include films of the African diaspora, but aren’t necessarily set in Africa, and about Africans, which had long been its mandate.
Hicham received the Golden Stallion of Yennenga from Michel Kafando, transitional president of Burkina Faso.
"We will not back down one iota," said Burkinabe reggae singer Zêdess, as he performed during the closing night ceremony at the festival, alluding to the attack in Mali, but also thinking of the political transition in Burkina after a revolution, his lyrics touching on political and social issues, like corruption and the abuse of power.
His words also speak to the festival’s about-face, after it initially planned to remove the anti-jihadist film "Timbuktu" (which left virtually empty handed, winning two smaller prizes for production design and music), from the competition, in order to avoid what it believed could become a symbolic target for attack. In the end, it was President Kafando who insisted that the festival screen the film in competition.
"FESPACO is the translation of the African desire to express themselves and to express African culture in freedom, in any democracy, and therefore in these circumstances, we could not put aside a movie because it was more or less threatened by terrorists," said President Kafando.
And about the festival, and "Timbuktu" not winning the top prize, the director of the film, Abderrahmane Sissako said, "This is the vibrancy of Africa. ‘Timbuktu’ has won awards already. ‘Timbuktu’ has had sufficient exposure already, and the Golden Stallion award provides exposure, and when it is given to another director and their film, their victory is my victory, too."
Silver and Bronze Stallions were awarded, respectively, to Algerian director Belkacem Hadjadj’s "Fadhma N’Soumer" (a stunning biopic on the life of the Algerian resistance leader, called by the French the "Joan of Arc of Kabylia," who fought French colonial forces in the 1850s; and starring French-Lebanese actress Laëtitia Eïdo); and local favorite, Burkinabé director, Sékou Traoré’s political drama "L’Oeil du cyclone" ("The Eye of the Storm") won the Bronze Stallion. Set in an unnamed African country plagued by civil war, the film follows a young lawyer who is committed to defending a rebel charged with war crimes. The pair engage in a chess game that pits the idealistic lawyer, looking to the future, against a former child soldier, still consumed by the past; both representing two faces of Africa today. The film also won the festival awards for Best Actress (which went to Maimouna N’Diaye), and Best Actor (to Fargass Assandé) – both starring in Traoré’s "L’Oeil du cyclone."
Morocco was also honored in the short film category: "Water and blood" by director Abdelilah Eljouhary won top prize in the category.
As for documentaries, which mostly dealt with violent inter-continental conflicts, or issues of cultural identity, the top prize was awarded to South African Desai Rehad’s "Miners Shot Down" which relates the tragedy of August 2012, in which mine workers in one of South Africa’s biggest platinum mines began a strike for better wages. Six days later, the police used live ammunition to brutally suppress the strike, killing 34 and injuring many more. Using the point of view of the Marikana miners, the documentary follows the strike from day one, showing the courageous but isolated fight waged by a group of low-paid workers against the combined forces of the mining company Lonmin, the government and their allies in the National Union of Mineworkers.
"This is a film about a massacre perpetrated against miners who simply asked for more money. The widows of miners killed will be very happy with this prize," said the director in accepting the award.
Founded in 1969, FESPACO is held every two years in Burkina Faso. The 2015 edition is the first since the fall of President Blaise Compaoré last October (2014), following a popular revolt.
The festival set dates for its next edition for February 25 to March 4, 2017.
Please find below raw video briefing of last night’s awards event. And watch a trailer for the top prize winner "Fievres" after:
Trailer for the top prize winner "Fievres":
Ephraim Fotso is an upcoming writer and filmmaker studying and living in Buea, Cameroon. This was his first FESPACO, and hopefully not his last