FESPACO brings African film to students and faculty

By Jessica Zischke, The Dartmouth Staff | 4/18/13 2:00pm

This weekend the Hopkins Center for the Arts will show four of the best and most recent films from the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, a biannual African film festival known as FESPACO. FESPACO is part of the Hop’s Best in Show series, which has screened selections from five acclaimed international film festivals.

Ranging in genre from indie romance to neo-noir heist, the shows will take place in the Loew Auditorium of the Black Family Visual Arts Center, beginning April 19 at 7 p.m.

Jeffrey Ruoff, chair of the film and media studies department, suggested this festival be included in the Best in Show program after visiting the festival himself in 2007.

“FESPACO is the king of African cinema,” Ruoff said. “It is a tremendous showcase for African and North African cinema.”

For the majority of students and faculty, this is the only opportunity they will have to see these movies as African films are not as widely distributed as those from America, Europe and Asia.

“Because of where we are based, it’s rare to see the latest and best cinema from Africa,” Ruoff said. “These films unfortunately don’t play at the Nugget or at our multiplexes, and they may not even wind up on Netflix. It’s an excellent opportunity for people to see films that they probably can’t see anywhere else.”

The rarity of such films only makes these screenings more exciting for those who are able to attend, Hopkins Center Film Manager Sydney Stowe said.

Boosting this weekend’s appeal even more, FESPACO judge and programmer Mahen Bonetti will be on campus to present each of the four films and participate in post-film discussions. Bonetti’s involvement with FESPACO in the past inspired her to create the African Film Festival in New York in 1990.

“For people who come, [Bonetti] will be the incentive to come again and hear her thoughts about the film,” Stowe said. “She is an incredible ambassador for African film in America.”

Bonetti, Stowe and Ruoff worked with Hop film director Bill Pence and Dartmouth Film Society director Johanna Evans to select four films that would showcase diverse subject matter while introducing audience members to African cinema.

The group was looking for a more varied program in order to attract more of the Dartmouth community to come out and see these films, Evans said. The final product is four movies each from a different country ranging in topical content.

“Restless City” (2011), a film about a Dakiri immigrant looking for work and love in the Big Apple, kicks off the program on Friday. On Saturday, “Virgin Margarida” (2012) will expose moviegoers to the provocative story of the Mozambique re-education camps for female sex workers. Later that same day, “La Pirogue” (2012) follows a group of African men on a tumultuous overseas journey from Senegal to Spain. The weekend closes with “Death for Sale” (2011), a neo-noir heist film from Morocco.

Anyone who has felt caught in a rut this term can look forward to the FESPACO films for a break in the mundane cycle in which many people are caught.

“These films won’t take more than two hours of your life, they don’t require you to even leave campus,” Stowe said. “This is a chance to see a different world in a really accessible, safe and possibly life-changing way.”

American popular culture tends to be closed off to African films and music, but this series allows the Dartmouth community to watch African art and hear African stories.

“[Through this festival, we are] trying to bring the diversity of African life to American audiences who are not accustomed to seeing films made by Africans,” Ruoff said. “They’re accustomed to seeing news reports by Western agencies about Africa. This is an opportunity to see Africa as it sees itself.”

Jessica Zischke, The Dartmouth Staff