Monday, November 8, 2010

Reimagining Africa through film

Gaston Kaboré is an acclaimed West African filmmaker who tells stories – stories that reappropriate and reaffirm Africans’ histories and aspirations.

I had the privilege of hearing Gaston Kaboré speak in Ottawa last year, and saw his short film entitled 2000 Generations of Africans. (I have to admit that I’ve blogged about Kaboré’s work before, in a guest post at Alette Willis’ wonderful site ReStorying the Earth; but I can’t help writing about him again here.)

Gaston Kaboré didn’t set out to be a filmmaker. He was studying history, examining 19th century European drawings for his graduate research. The way they depicted Africans was starkly different from his understanding of his own history. To Kaboré, the images were clichés used to justify colonialism, rather than representations of his own people’s perspective.

He realised then that “we needed as Africans to have our own statement about our history. It looks like we do not exist at all, because other people are telling our story. And as someone said, as long as the story of the sheep is told by the lion, there is a problem.”

Kaboré’s interest in the construction of Africa through images led him to film school to learn “the language of cinema.” His first feature film was Wend Kuuni (1982). In it he combined the cinematic language he had learned with the oral storytelling approaches of his people. He wanted, he said, to create a film that people in his country could identify with. (He was so successful in this that some filmgoers thought Wend Kuuni was a traditional story adapted for film.)

Wend Kuuni and its sequel, Buud Yam (1997), are stories about rural life, but they are also metaphors for Africa. In Wend Kuuni, the main character regains his voice after years of being mute, an intentional parallel to Africa coming out of colonisation.

2000 Generations of Africans (2009) is a short but powerful tribute to Africa as the source of humanity and the heart of the future. In it, African hands, dreams and aspirations shape Africa’s destiny.

Gaston Kaboré is acknowledged as a key figure in Burkinabé and African cinema. He served as the director of his country’s National Film Centre and as head of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers. He’s won numerous awards in Africa and internationally for his films. In 2003 he established a school for filmmakers, Imagine, in Ouagadougou, to give an opportunity to both emerging and established filmmakers to develop their art.

Gaston Kaboré was in Ottawa as part of the launch of Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies.

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