|Interview by Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published May 27, 2007
Burkinabe filmmaker, Gaston J.M. Kabore, credited for the ‘Back to the Villages’ cinema movement of the 1980s was in Uganda to present his film, Buud Yaam, and conduct a master class at 4th Amakula Kampala International Film Festival (May 3 ‘ 13, 2007).
Kabore, a former secretary-general of Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), general manager of the Burkina Faso Cinema Board, founder of IMAGINE Film Training Institute, and a leading voice on African cinema whose 1997 Buud Yaam won the prestigious Stallion of Yennenga at Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, speaks to BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI about the status of African cinema.
How best can you describe the status of African cinema?
I think we are still at the beginning of film expression in Africa, our cultures not having been invented in this art form. We need to train many people in this medium to tell African stories. Africa is not visible enough in cinema and television; if we do not do something to enlarge the visibility of African images, Africans are going to disappear in their own eyes. Decision-makers should not consider cinema a luxury; it’s very important, particularly for the youth, to view African images.
Can Africa really develop its own cinema without necessarily copying the West or the East?
We are definitely going to find our own way. It may take time because we are starting from level zero for lack of infrastructure, training and policies. I know Africa has not only found its own way in the field of music but has also influenced the global industry through the diverse genres coming out of the continent right from the folklore to the jazz to rumba. Cinema is a sector in which Africa can make an impact.
Has television been of help in the development of cinema on the continent?
For television stations to show your film in Africa you have to pay them as they see it as an advertisement for you. This is a total misunderstanding about the role of national television. However commercial stations like South Africa’s M-Net are making it possible for the continent to access our films. Of course sometimes they buy our films for peanuts but when I travel in Africa and people hear my name they will stop me and say they have seen my films. Stations like M-Net are playing the role of distributing our films.
What has been the impact of the digital technologies on African cinema?
Now it’s easy to have a camera and to make something easily. It’s a new situation that we should take advantage of to produce more films. At the beginning the product may not be of standard quality, but what is important is enable the filmmakers to make more films, and then ensure we avail training opportunities so that people can learn from both the field and school. I believe in the power of communication through the medium of cinema and television but we need to give discipline to our professionals to try to get the best quality not just based on the money you have but also on your creativity.
Do you see a vibrant film industry in future?
Yes. That is why I started a film training school in Ouagadougou called Imagine. I know that if Africans trained then tomorrow we can make films by ourselves. If we can be more imaginative I know Africa will influence the world like it has done in music.
Why is it that African filmmakers produce for festivals around the world and not for the local theatres?
It’s not a goal for filmmakers to produce for festivals. I think any filmmaker would like his or her movie to be widely seen in the world, but because of lack of structures for distribution and exhibition. The only option the film festival circuit. Festivals expose and create confrontation on a film, permit expression and the critics to write about the film, and commercial exhibition. We need private investors to enter this sector of film distribution and exhibition. But whenever we do not solve the problem of copyright, then we shall not have investors and creators. Why should I plant my fruit and it is eaten by someone else? This is not acceptable because it is an economic crime and if we can solve this I am confident Africa will earn money out of film production.
Have African governments exploited African cinema to export the continent’s cultures and image?
I don’t know if African Governments are doing their job.
Nigerian films have taken the continent by storm. What could the rest of the continent learn from this phenomenon?
The situation in Nigeria is a very specific one; it is the most populated country in Africa with its own film culture, big market and good filmmakers. Smart traders discovered that there was money to be made out of Nigerian films at home. I think some of them began as copyright pirates and not necessarily as trained professionals in marketing. I hope that something good may come out of this phenomenon for Africa. The issue of quantity is something we need to address, so that we can have quality coming out of quantity. Ghanaians had begun much earlier but due to the Nigerian’s aggressiveness they have managed to dominate and create an industry. The rest of Africa does not need to imitate the Nigerian way but to do its own pieces.
Funding seems to be the major bottleneck hindering the development of the film industry in Africa. How could this solved?
Governments should put in place policies to develop the industry with incentives and tax holidays so that investors can come into the sector. If Governments can allow the construction of production facilities then we shall say Governments are paying attention to cinema. With regulations in place Governments will arrest evils like copyright infringement.
What motivated you into starting a film training school back in Burkina Faso?
I started this school after realising that it was something missing. Training was not being given due attention. I was also influenced by my 12 years experience as General Manager of the Cinema Board of my country, the running of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), and my own production company. All these segments of my professional life got me to realise that we should do something. And I do it on my modest resources and skills knowing that it would inspire other people. I still think there is more that we can do. The school does not belong to me.
You seem to have mastered the art of African storytelling. How did you develop this art because it is evident in your films?
I am still learning even today; we in Africa are not products of chance. Africa is the cradle of humankind; it means that we have the deepest experience of life. Though Europeans did not want to recognise us, they celebrated the memory of slavery in 2007 and this means that you can’t hide the truth forever. You can spread the lie but it will die out. Africa is yet to reprocess itself.
What is your role as a filmmaker in Africa?
I am contributing like many other workers in their own fields to bring something to rebuild the African identity and personality that we lost because we are dominated and taught that our lives are useless and culture backward. Can you imagine that one of the greatest painters in the world, Pablo Picasso, borrowed the idea of Cubism from the African culture? I believe Africa is going to emerge. My role as a filmmaker is to bring my story to show the reality. Since I myself am a product of my culture, what I can do is going to be understood by my people.
Your film, Buud Yaam, won the Stallion of Yennenga, the top most award at the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougo, FESPACO, in 1997. Could we say Buud Yam is your best film?
I think I like each of my films, not because I have done them but because I have put my heart in each of those movies and I hope I will never do a movie which does not resemble me. I think when you make a movie it is because you always want to go beyond your ability and interrogation. I benefited from the previews I got for the three feature films I have produced. Like any creator the duration of your experience, the maturity that you are giving as an individual because of your age all enable one to put together a better piece. Buud Yaam is not my best film just because it won the Stallion of Yenenga.
Do you plan to make any more films?
Yes. Buud Yaam, my latest film, was made in 1997. My involvement with Imagine has taken a lot of my time. But I have written two scripts and I need two months to complete each one of them and then start seeking money. I hope that I will not go beyond 2009 without shooting my next movie.
What legacy would you want to leave behind?
My films. I hope that they will still be there to continue telling something to the people in the world. And why not inspire new filmmakers? As an individual I think that I have had to take responsibility in what I have tried to do in all my life at the national level managing the National Film Board in Burkina Faso, and at the continental level being elected three times on four year mandates to run FEAPACI. What I did with my production company and what I am doing today is the best way of leaving something more than my own creation.