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FutureStarrAfrica's Largest Film Festival Offers Hope in Burkina Faso
Africa's largest film festival, known by its French acronym FESPACO, begins this weekend in Burkina Faso - a country experiencing rising extremist violence that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced nearly 2 million people.
FESPACO organizers say they hope the weeklong event will provide a sense of normalcy to Burkinabes. Furthermore, they want it to boost domestic unity and foster connections with other countries at a time when anti-French sentiment is on the rise.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries on Earth, yet it hosts Africa's largest film festival: FESPACO. Held every two years in Ouagadougou's capital city, FESPACO serves to promote African cinema by screening films not typically screened elsewhere in Europe and providing a platform for local filmmakers to show off their work and attract foreign investment.
The Bambuti, also referred to as pygmies, are a group of four Ituri Pygmies--the Sua, Aka, Efe and Mbuti--who live in Central Africa's tropical rainforest. These ancient humans have been living there for around 4,500 years - making them one of the oldest human populations worldwide.
Their home is the Ituri Forest, situated near the border between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. As nomadic peoples, they rely heavily on this forest for sustenance; they also trade with agriculturalists for firewood and clothing.
In addition to providing food and shelter, the forest is home to several endangered species such as elephants, rhinoceros, lions, leopards, giraffes and chimpanzees. The Bambuti are one of the last remaining groups of wild hunter-gatherers in this region and they continue their traditional lifestyle by living off the land.
This area boasts several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as W National Park which protects the rainforest and various birds and animals that migrate between it and the savannah. Additionally, the Bambuti people have a close bond with the park.
Although many Burkinabes have endured famine, there are those who remain resilient and willing to tackle the difficulties that face them. Their strong sense of community can be seen in movies like Kenyan director Lupita Nyong'o's "In My Genes," which explores albinism's social stigma.
"Sira," another FESPACO winner, tells an inspiring tale about a woman's struggle for survival when she is kidnapped by Islamic militants in the Sahel. Her fiance attempts to rescue her and their ordeal becomes emblematic of the hardships endured by many in Algeria.
Africa's largest film festival begins this weekend in Burkina Faso, offering hope to the country amid rising jihadi violence. Organizers stress security as their top priority but also aim to give attendees a sense of normalcy while they watch films from 35 African countries and the diaspora.
This year's fiction competition includes "Sira," a feature-length film from Burkina Faso that follows the story of a woman kidnapped by jihadists in the Sahel region. This movie has been tabbed as one of the front runners for this year's contest.
Other movies depict the lives of Maasai people in Kenya, such as "The Red Lion." An important ritual among Maasai culture involves young men from their clan going out to fight a wild lion to prove their bravery and earn respect from their tribe.
Maasai traditions often involve an open field where warriors assemble and run to the edge of grassland where they circle around a lion with spears in hand, then proceed to kill it. Trophies are taken home, stories become legends and bonds are strengthened as people gather around this powerful creature.
However, the Maasai have modified their traditional lion game in an effort to control the population of lions and protect their people from attacks by these predators. As a result, they have completely rewritten one of their most defining traditions.
Maasai are an Indigenous Semi-Nomadic People that practice communal land management. This allows them to utilize their resources sustainably, rotating cattle and other livestock through different pastures during dry seasons.
Some Maasai customs and practices can be difficult to explain and comprehend, particularly those related to animals. For instance, it is customary among them to eat their cattle's blood which they believe to be packed with protein and salt.
But the Maasai are not alone in drinking animal blood; they also consume its urine and any dung that remains behind.
Burkina Faso is a West African country located in the Sahel region of North Africa. Its borders are with Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Ivory Coast and Ghana to the south. Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960. Despite recent conflicts in neighbouring Mali which have resulted in thousands of Tuareg refugees fleeing their home nation, Burkina Faso remains relatively peaceful and stable today.
Due to political unrest in their country, many Tuareg parents in rural areas used to avoid sending their children to school. But now more of these Tuareg are realizing the value of formal education; today most rural dwellers complete primary school and some even continue on to secondary schools in towns.
In the countryside, herding is the most common profession; other occupations include oasis gardening, caravan trading and migrant labor. In towns, some Tuareg work as businessmen or teachers; they produce arts and crafts or serve as security guards for tourists.
Traditional dress in Tuareg towns typically consists of long Islamic robes for men and wraparound skirts for women. Men may sport traditional Islamic styles while some women opt for fashionable European designs.
Diets in rural areas typically consist of grain products, dried fruits and vegetable stews. Meat is only consumed occasionally - usually during rites of passage or special holidays. Eghajira - a thick sweet drink made with millet, dates, goat cheese and water - is an especially beloved beverage among rural dwellers.
Music plays an integral role in Tuareg culture, and musicians are highly sought-after members of the community. Though some songs can be trance-inducing, most tunes are melodic and rhythmic. In addition to traditional Tuareg music, some Tuaregs also enjoy rock or fusion genres such as Bombino - a young band which blends traditional Tuareg sounds with western influences.
The Tuareg are a nomadic people living in North Africa's Sahara region, particularly Niger, Mali, Libya and Algeria. They belong to the Maliki sect of Islam.
Tuareg people possess a fierce sense of national identity and cultural diversity. They are proud individuals with deep-seated values that often go unseen by outsiders; hence the importance of documentaries about their culture. One such film, 'Toumast - Guitars and Kalashnikovs - US Premiere', chronicles recent Tuareg revolts and struggles for justice through interviews with rebel musician Moussa ag Keyna. Through these intimate insights into recent Tuareg struggles for justice, viewers gain insight into what these Tuareg have had to endure in recent years.
Every two years in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, one of Africa's largest film festivals takes place. This annual gathering brings together stars and filmmakers from across Africa for an inspiring exchange.
This event serves as a platform for international media professionals looking to expand their presence in the region. This year it will include an exclusive market for documentary filmmakers.
Cinema has long been used as a vehicle of reconciliation in the African Great Lakes region. But today, an emerging generation of filmmakers are using filmmaking as a vehicle to address that violence, document it and help people comprehend and forgive it.
These films serve as a link between communities who have experienced conflict and are now striving to build trust. Interpeace's Great Lakes Cross-border Dialogue for Peace program, for instance, hosted this year a film festival in Rwanda with Never Again Rwanda and the Pole Institute to foster understanding around what causes violence and why it occurs.
For decades, the African Great Lakes region has been a flashpoint of internal conflict. When communities have disagreements over power or land use, riots or violence often break out. To combat these problems, filmmakers at this year's festival sought to deconstruct negative stereotypes and spark conversation on how best to improve living conditions for local residents.
Consequently, the festival is a positive development for this region and serves as a timely reminder that citizens in Afghanistan are not victims of war. Furthermore, it offers film industry professionals an opportunity to connect with distributors and market their products effectively.
Last year's terrorist attack during FESPACO and the ongoing conflict in Burkina Faso have put this festival and other major events at risk. Alex Moussa Sawadogo, director of FESPACO, told CNN last month his team is determined to go ahead with their plans despite security concerns.
It is essential for this country to continue celebrating and sharing its culture and heritage, even in the face of hardship. We hope these events will motivate more people to visit the country and contribute to its economy rather than driving people away.