Mon, 25 Sep 2023

With a record number of films in the official lineup, African cinema is set to shine at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It's not only a showcase for attracting international distribution though. It is also a significant motivator for up and coming young filmmakers from the continent.

How do films get made? How and where to get the funding? How to get started in the business with just a synopsis? Celebrating the screening of a film and perhaps a strut along the red carpet are the very last steps after what is often a long and arduous process from a creative and financial point of view.

La Fabrique Cinema established by the L'Institut francais is marking its 15th year helping aspiring filmmakers from emerging countries get their foot on the first rung of the ladder.

It also helps them navigate the commercial nuts and bolts of the industry and gain international exposure.

"It's my first time in Cannes and my first film at the Palais [des Festivals] was a Tunisian film, from my region," Charlie Kouka told RFI. She is one of the 10 young participants attending the series of La Fabrique workshops in Cannes this year.

Tunisia on a roll

The film she is referring to is "Les Filles d'Olfa" (Four Daughters), directed by Kaouther Ben Hania.

It is based on the true story of a mother whose two daughters decide to join the Islamic State. It's the first time in 50 years that a Tunisian film has been selected in the official Cannes Film Festival competition.

For Kouka, who grew up in the small town of Sidi Bouzid - the same town as Hania - the only films she ever got to see were on television, most of them American or French films. Although there were many North African series, there weren't many films.

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She first saw North African actors on the big screen when she went to a film festival in Tunis as a student. This was a revelation, and she began to realise that if they could do it, maybe she could too.

Tunisia is one of four African countries represented alongside Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt.

There is a fitting sense of symmetry. The patron of this year's programme is Dora Bouchoucha, a producer from Tunisia and co-founder of Southern Writing Workshops (Ateliers Sud Ecriture) dedicated to supporting Arab and African screenwriters.

Senegal in the running for Palme d'Or

For Yoro Mbaye, who grew up in a village in Senegal with no access to television, let alone cinema, coming to Cannes is a dream come true.

His 'a-ha' moment came some years ago when an acquaintance coaxed him ito see "Borom Sarret" (1963) by Ousmane Sembène, a major figure in Senegalese cinema.

Although studying to become a lawyer, he found that cinema was a more effective way to express his ideas and comment on issues in Senegalese society. His short film "Black Day" about police violence towards students was shown at several international festivals including the short film festival in Clermont-Ferrand.

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Now, he's hoping to get funding for his new feature film project "Fagadaga" with help from La Fabrique.

He is in good hands, as his producer is none other than Souleymane Kebe, whose company Astou is behind the film "Banel et Adama" by Ramata-Toulaye Sy, the first Senegalese film to run in competition for the Palme d'Or this year.

However, a Nigerian film has never been picked to run in the official selection at Cannes, and Michael Omonua is keen to see that change. He says workshops like La Fabrique are a great way to make this happen.

"In Nigeria, we have a big domestic mainstream industry, but we don't do many international co-productions so it's hard to find money to do that," Omonua told RFI.

"La Fabrique really helps us to learn how that process works, facilitate our dealing with consultants and navigate what can be a tricky area" especially on an international scale.

A change is gonna come

Egyptian filmmaker Nada Riyadh, whose short film "Fakh" (The Trap) was shown in the Semaine de la Critique in 2019 is back with La Fabrique this year with her feature length project "Moonblind", the story of a 12 year-old girl who escapes an abusive father.

For her, one of the highlights of the Cannes festival this year is the presence of more African women.

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"Meeting a very accomplished producer like Dora Bouchoucha has been very moving. She shares openly about the troubles and hardship of making films and that is very important. It gives us purpose."

"I think for Arab films this is going to change a lot of things," she says of the rich selection of films in the official selection, noting in particular Tunisia's Asmae El Moudir with "The Mother of All Lies" in Un Certain Regard.

Other African titles this year include "Les Meutes" from Morocco, "Omen" from Democratic Republic of Congo and "Goodbye Julia" from Sudan, all in Un Certain Regard.

Originally published on RFI

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