End of the film screening Banel and Adama of the Franco-Senegalese Ramata-Toulaye Sy in the running for the Palme d’Or. A Chinese journalist is in tears. For what ? “I was very moved by this film. I came to this screening a bit by default. African cinema is virgin territory for me and I really liked this film”, she answers, curious to know a little more about the filmmaker installed a few rows from her and who revisits with sophistication and sublime photography these African films whose sets are villages. “I know it’s a complicated film. In any case, I hope it touched you. That’s the most important thing”, said Ramata-Toulaye Sy on Saturday May 20 after the presentation of his feature film. Successful bet.
This year, the Cannes Film Festival seems to have decided to work to fill a void. More than fifteen films, all formats and all sections combined, made by African filmmakers are screened on the Croisette. From the Cannes Film Festival press conference on April 13, Thierry Frémaux, its general delegate, boasted of the “strong presence of the African continent” in the official selection marked by a new generation of filmmakers, most of them female directors. Daughters of Olfa, concept film by the Tunisian Kaouther Ben Hania which plays with the codes of docu-fiction, and the first feature film by Ramata-Toulaye Sy are in competition.
Firsts for the DRC and Sudan
As for the Moroccan Asmae El Moudirshe presented Kadib Abyad (The Mother of All Lies) at a Certain Regard. Just like the Belgian-Congolese Baloji (Augur)thanks to whom the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is for the first time in the official selection, the Moroccan Kamel Lazraq (The Packs) or Mohamed Kordofani (Goodbye Julia) which also offers Sudan its first Cannes selection. The screening was an opportunity for the director to send a message of support to his compatriots whose country is in the throes of a civil war and to point out that part of his team was not present because they were not had not obtained a visa.
Several African films on the Croisette but nothing to be proud of. “For laymen, it’s new”explains distributor and film critic Claire Diao. “For those who are used to circulating at the Fespaco (the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, the main event for African cinema which is held every two years in Burkina Faso) at the JCC (Carthage Cinematographic Days in Tunisia)in Durban (film festival held in South Africa) and in many other cinematic meetings on the continent, it is only fair for all the professionals on this continent who have not managed to emerge on the international scene and who, however, have been working hard for years”.
Same story with Houda El Amri, editorial adviser at Canal Plus International who supported some of the films screened. “That’s it, the selectors of Cannes know that we have good films”. “It’s a sign that African productions are beginning to be recognized”, also notes Pierre Barrot, specialist in cinema and audiovisual programs at the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) who accompanied six of the African films present on the Croisette (The Packs, Olfa’s Daughters, Banel and Adama, deserts, Augur And Mambar Pierrette).
The reflection of a “bubbling”
If he welcomes this awareness, Gérard Marion, director of the Festival Lumières d’Afrique dedicated to African cinema which takes place every year in Besançon, points out that it is late. “There is a large choice of films from the African continent, so much the better. There are still 54 countries, 54 cinephiles… Finally, it goes up in the grail of the grail. It is very good that the selectors understand it. Berlin, Toronto and Locarno (film festivals that take place respectively in Germany, Canada and Switzerland) had understood it long before, so it’s good that it’s happening here in Cannes”. And Gérard Marion to take the opportunity to rant. “It’s a mess this year (…) The rooms are empty but the sessions are marked complete (at the online ticket office). You can’t see the movies. You have to prostitute yourself – I press the word – from distributors and producers, who have nothing, to get tickets and see the films. It is not normal.”
The wealth of African films on offer also reflects the dynamism of the industry in recent years. “It’s just the reflectionanalyzes Claire Diao, of all that is currently happening on the continent. We are talking about 54 countries. To have about fifteen African filmmakers selected is not so massive, but at the same time it is quite representative of the diversity of the continent, whether we are talking about Portuguese-speaking Africa with No me from Bissau-Guinean Sana Na N’Hada to Acid, from North Africa with several Moroccan feature films (Déserts by Faouzi Bensaïdi screened at the Quinzaine des cinéastes, Les Meutes, Kadib Abyad)Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon with Mambar Pierrette by Rosine Mbakam at the Quinzaine des cinéastes or from Egypt (Al Torah’ by Jad Chahine presented at the Cinef which brings together school films And I promise you paradise de Morad Mostafa, short film selected for Critics’ Week)”.
The boost of French co-production
“It’s a very good signal that the talent is there, further believes Claire Diao, that it took years to set up industries, labs, financing systems, co-production systems and that today Cannes is only going to be the reflection of all this bubbling that there is on the continent”.
An effervescence that owes a lot, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, to French co-production. France, the world’s leading co-producer and as attested by the Cannes Film Festival in its programming, has always been heavily invested in financing the seventh art on the continent. Augur is a co-production in which France is the majority (the film therefore also has French nationality). As Banel and Adama. In this respect, countries like Morocco are an exception. “There are three Moroccan films in the different sections. It’s no coincidence”, notes Pierre Barrot, specialist in cinema and audiovisual programs at the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) who accompanied six of the African films present on the Croisette, half of which are first films (The Packs, Olfa’s Daughters, Banel and Adama, deserts, Augur And Mambar Pierrette)
Support your own cinema
“Morocco is a country that has an aid fund that supports its own cinema. Apart from South Africa, it is the African country capable of investing the most resources (to produce films)”, underlines Pierre Barrot of the OIF. The latter indicates that there is also, “these last years”, more funding available for African cinema. “European funds are more important for production in sub-Saharan Africa”. Added to this are the national aid funds that have been created, such as the Fund for the Promotion of the Cinematographic and Audiovisual Industry (Fopica), in Senegal, which participated in the production of Banel and Adama.
However, whatever the efforts of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and the parallel sections, remains a prerequisite: the existence of a cinematographic industry in African countries, as is the case in the north of the continent whose productions are often selected. Cannes is then only a beautiful showcase as it already is for other cinematographies. The presence, for example, of three Italian films in competition is thus a non-event since Italy is a great nation of cinema.
Non-exhaustive list of African films presented in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and in the parallel sections.
Olfa’s Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania (Tunisia)
Banel and Adama of Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Senegal)
At A Certain Regard
Augur from Baloji (DRC)
The Packs by Kamel Lazraq (Morocco)
Goodbye Julia by Mohamed Khordofani (Sudan)
Kadib Abyad (The Mother of All Lies) by Asmae El Moudir (Morocco)
At the Filmmakers’ Fortnight
Deserts of Faouzi Bensaïdi (Morocco)
Mamba Pierrette by Rosine Mbakam (Cameroon)
The house is burning, might as well warm up by Mouloud Aït Liotna (Algeria, short film)
At Critics’ Week
I promise you paradise de Morad Mostafa (Egypt, short film)
Mashtat by Sonia Ben Slama (Tunisia)
No me from Sana Na N’Hada (Guinea-Bissau)