A small country in west Africa has been at the forefront of developing the continental film industry, both through the biennial FESPACO Film Festival and a visionary film training institute called Imagine.
Cinema is at that the top of Burkina Faso’s cultural list, despite the country’s lack of a bona fide industry.
So said Burkinabe elder of African cinema, Gaston Kabore (Wend Kuuni, Buud Yaam), who met with Screen Africa at the recent Durban International Film Festival.
“Burkina Faso has tried for 40 years to contribute to film expression,’ continued Kabore. “Cinema is a vitally important vehicle of the African Renaissance because it allows us to express our views and visions of the future of the continent.
“I’ve always believed in the importance of training in the African industry, otherwise we will continue to see images of the continent from abroad. Africans must learn how to tell their own stories on screen. For this reason I began to build the foundations for Imagine. However, I can’t run it single-handedly which is why professionals from all over the world run workshops at the school. This is very important as technology changes so quickly.’
In the eight years of the school’s existence hundreds of Africans, including the up-and-coming South African director, Norman Maake (Home Sweet Home, Soldiers of the Rock), have studied at the school. Workshops are in English and French with the first Portuguese workshop imminent.
Courses cover scriptwriting, directing, production, post-production and sound mixing.
“Africa is plural but we have a common background. This is why I’m happy to meet people from different countries and delighted if the school can inspire people,’ noted Kabore.
Imagine has run over 40 workshops attended by 350 people. Entrance into the school is free which presents funding issues for Imagine and its partners, National Institute of France, CFI, TV5 and the Organisation Internationale de la Franchophonie (OIF).
Kabore notes that the recession saw training budgets cut. “We are in a critical period of survival as Imagine is a local initiative and funded by ourselves.
There is no government funding so we have to think of how to restructure the school.’
Imagine runs three levels of training. The first is for “young talents’ straight out of film school, and offers an eight-week course where students shoot a three-minute film. Maake underwent the second level of training, which is for those who have directed short films, films and documentaries. This course consolidates their process, adapts them to the new technological environment and prepares them for new challenges.
The third level of training exists to train the trainers. “This is very important as often film practitioners with lots of talent and experience don’t know how to teach. Imagine shows them how to create a syllabus and put evaluation tools in place so that theory and practice can be combined in a defined way,’ explained Kabore.
Unlinke many film schools today Imagine trains its students on celluloid. “If you are trained on 35mm it will make you a better filmmaker on digital formats,’ commented Kabore. “Working on celluloid makes you think carefully before you roll the camera so that you don’t overshoot. We give students a culture of film to show that filmmaking is not all about computers. Editing is extremely important and if you’ve shot well, you will be able to edit even better. That’s why we advise filmmakers to storyboard their scripts before shooting commences. We train students to edit on Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress and Adobe, with ProTools for sound mixing.’
A lot of Imagine’s trainers come from a celluloid background, which gives them a good culture of film. Kabore’s regret is that the school has not yet found many people in Africa to train its students so trainers mostly emanate from Ireland, UK, Canada and Quebec, France and Belgium. Imagine hopes to source trainers from South Africa and has a collaboration with the country’s National Film and Video Foundation.
Delivering emotions and feelings
Because Imagine believes that filmmaking is not just technical there is a strong emphasis on scriptwriting and how to think in visuals. For this reason students have to view lots of films during their courses.
“By looking at other people’s films you can learn things,’ stated Kabore. “You need to know what to say and how to deliver emotions and feelings. These days it’s possible to make a good movie with a small budget but you have to find inspiration in your soul. Making a film is not about pleasing yourself – at the end of the day it’s about what you’re saying on the screen.’
Kabore has shot four films in his career, all on celluloid. The last one was Buud Yaam in 1997. “I don’t have any regrets that I have made so few films in my life because I managed to create Imagine. In fact, I’m on the verge of making a new film and am in the process of completing two scripts. I hope to complete both films by 2015.
“Although I would love to shoot them both on celluloid I’m not dogmatic about format on my films. If celluloid isn’t possible then I will shoot on either the Sony EIX3 or Canon 7D. Either way I will use the discipline of celluloid. That’s what we try and instill in our students – use the new digital tools of today but adhere to the technical requirements of celluloid filmmaking. It is possible to make good films on digital.’
Kabore attributes his own personal inspiration to pioneers of African cinema such as the late South African filmmaker Lionel Ngakane and the late Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. “I always refer to Sembene as “the elder of the elders of African cinema’.’ (Report by Joanna Sterkowicz)