|Interview by Ogova Ondego
Published July 30, 2008
Some 112 years after cinema was introduced to Africa in 1896, images in illusory motion (aka movies or moving images) has not only failed to take root in Africa but the mother continent is yet to come up with a comprehensive, relevant and appropriate curriculum for its various training institutions. It appeared to have been on this premise that the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, better known by its French acronyms, FEPACI (Federation Pan Africaine Des Cineastes), held the FEPACI Southern African Curriculum Symposium, a two day consultative meeting on the theme, “The Alignment of Curriculum into the 21st Century Aspirations of the Pan African Industry”, in Windhoek, Namibia, July 31-August 1, 2008.
It was during this conference that ArtMatters.Info publisher OGOVA ONDEGO met Seipati Bulane-Hopa, some 27 months after her election to the office of secretary-general of FEPACI in Pretoria, South Africa, in April 2006. Bulane-Hopa confessed she had not been fully aware of what she was getting into when she ‘accepted nomination at the eleventh hour’ of the landmark Africa Film Conference. Accordingly, she will not defend the seat when her term ends in 2010. Instead, she is writing a book that details what she has gone through at the helm of what should be Africa’s top film business organ.
Please take us through what you have experienced since your election to the office of FEPACI secretary-general in April 2006.
It has been an exhilarating journey for me and the Treasurer General Albert Egbe. Moving the secretariat from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Johannesburg in South Africa has posed the greatest challenge. I didn’t have any migration plan when I took office. The only thing I had was support from the FEPACI membership. Huge expectations put on us by 54 countries in Africa, including Western Sahara, Madagascar and the African Diaspora in Europe, the Americas and Asia calls for enormous finances, infrastructure support and human resources. Seven months after my election no funding was forthcoming and I conducted FEPACI business from a private residence. Many of the corporate organisations I spoke to didn’t want to commit themselves to a shell as FEPACI had little that could pass for something tangible. It was not even registered in South Africa. Finally the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa gave us US$20,000 in October 2006.
With the support of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, CNC, Africalia, M-Net and the Department of Arts and Culture, we held a conference on Intellectual Property Rights and Best Strategy at the 11th Southern Africa International Film and Television Market, Sithengi, in Cape Town, in November 2006. The focus of this strategy meeting was ‘operation’ of FEPACI but the regional secretaries in attendance quickly switched it from ‘operation’ to ‘political’.But I felt FEPACI had spint so much on politics over its 40 years of existence. That being the case, I felt it needed action and not political power structures. I lost poularity with the regional secretariats over this stand. I am writing a book on this.
Instead of concentrating on the business plan that sought to strengthen the central and regional secretariats, they raised political issues related to the governance of FEPACI. For me ‘action’ was a priority, i.e. making the secretariat work. This first engagement at Sithengi didn’t achieve much. I had felt we needed someone to coordinate activities in the regions. This was not to take over from regional secretaries but to complement their activities: registration of offices, data collection, running of workshops.
What is your relationship with the African Union?
We have a pending MOU with the African Union. We are requesting the AU to pay for a feasibility study on the audiovisual sector in Africa to be conducted by FEPACI. The AU is to support while things are to be implemented by the professionals. We are also looking at the possibilities of how FEPACI can go beyond the ‘observer’ status to one of ‘partner’ with the AU. The AU says this is under scrutiny but we hope it will be signed soon. We give AU a ‘political’ and not ‘practitioner’ function.
Why are you running this conference on audiovisual media curriculum instead of one on, say, African Film Fund or African Film Commission?
This is an urgent response to resolutions taken at the African Film Congress that mandates FEPACI to interrogate and research the current state of curriculum within African training institutions. We are also looking into the issue of film curriculum as a follow up to the IPR conference held in South Africa in November 2006. We have the desire to form the African Film Commission, then follow up with the African Film Fund. However, we must put ‘structures’ before ‘function’. FEPACI has to become a proper house before beginning to function.
How can you describe the future of the FEPACI secretariat in South Africa?
The future of FEPACI in South Africa is bright. Good things are beginning to happen. Things are looking up. The Department of arts and Culture (DAC) is coming in. We need to build a stronger headquarters in Ouagadougou to cushion FEPACI against vulnerability whenever the secretariat moves.
How about your own future as secretary-general?
I shall not defend my seat when my term ends. I was nominated for the post of secretary-general at the 11th hour during the African Film Congress in Pretoria in 2006 and had little time to take into account what the position would cost me. There was no hand over ceremony, no documents, no pen or paper when I was elected. I was given an office that had nothing in it. The going has been difficult. And it has taught me difficult lessons. I won’t do it again.
Anything you can describe as your achievement so far?
Though we lost two years putting thins in place, we now have in place a FEPACI membership endowment account, a projects account and a mainstream account. We now have a functioning office, a running website and newsletter and have put up a headquarters with proper structures. We have hosted two symposia and have published a report for 2006/2007. We have a legal team with expertise in IPR and contracts drafting to assist FEPACI members against signing away African heritage. We are planning to put up a centre for research and archives, space for the African think tank to be at the FEPACI headquarters. We shall also have an awards system at African film festivals to recognise creativity.
Can you identify any shortcoming?
The FEPACI visibility has been a problem because we have been consumed with getting the office in operation. We need to disseminate information to Africa and the world, to interrogate issues, engage governments using chat rooms and to raise further awareness with the South African government to come out in serious support of FEPACI. This is why we hold a monthly meeting in Johannesburg with the Friends of FEPACI to talk about this organisation.