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Interview with...

 Gaston Kaboré is one of today's most well-known specialists of African cinema. A filmmaker himself, he is also a teacher and all his activities help foster the recognition and promotion of African cinema.



During the most recent FESPACO, the famous pan-African festival for cinema and television of Ouagadougou in which he regularly participates, he was the main trainer for the workshop on 'Training and Issues of Professionalism', under the aegis of the Global Alliance. With varied and specialized professional experience, Mr Kaboré was an adviser at the University of Ouagadougou and the African Institute for Cinematographic Education, then became director of national cinematography of Burkina Faso for a decade as well as Secretary-General of Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers from 1985 to 1997. Today he is director of his own training company Imagine in Burkina Faso. He talks to us about his experiences, projects and his vision for the future of African cinema:

What are the key catalysts for the film industry in Africa?

Whoever controls film distribution controls the cinema. The showing of films in cinemas is the main way to recoup investments in films. In Africa however we don't have a distribution network like that which exists in Europe or North America. We have not been able to create a solid foundation for our cinema through a distribution network. Of course there are exceptions such as South Africa, Egypt and a few countries in  North Africa which are in a different set of circumstances. But in 90% of African countries the film industry lacks this solid foundation. We are confronted by real problems in terms of infrastructure investment, particularly in terms of actual cinemas. As a filmmaker I don't want us to abandon the classic concept of a cinema halls but we need to explore other forms of showing films which will bring together new technologies with DVD projection in the most comfortable environment possible. This could involve rehabilitating old cinema halls to become DVD projection rooms using large screens and video graphics.

What prospects can we expect from digital technologies?

Even cinema-goers are now able to film videos from scratch and show them without going through the process of transferring them from celluloid to digital. This is why we are beginning to see a new type of filmmaking being born in Burkina Faso which differs from the traditional. In particular a journalist called Abou Bakar Dialo has turn to making films. He films in digital in a very short amount of time, he edits them very quickly and in two or three months the films are in the theatre. He has just announced his third film. His is an example that I am following closely because it's a way by which we can create a film economy that reflects our own reality. In order that professionals can continue to make a living from their work, we need a flexible film industry able to adapt to the conditions we live in. Perhaps by using digital production we will be able to build our own economy, because we will be able to film for less, more actors will gain experience and more films will be produced.

What are your views on mobile cinema which is developing in some African countries?

Mobile cinema is another solution: a remedy to lack of cinema viewing halls in Africa, but it is clear that it has certain limits. In villages and provinces we lack cinema infrastructure. This is nothing new. Since the birth of cinema in Africa we have always had these shortcomings. Today, a large majority of Africans continue to be cut off from films and because of this mobile cinema is resurfacing in response to new needs. Mobile cinema allows us to reach viewers where they live with films that are purely for entertainment of course, but also with socio-educational films. It is a very good idea to couple films for pleasure with films that address people on topics that reflect their social reality and tackle issues such as illnesses, Aids, the place of women in society, environmental protection etc. Mobile cinema has been made far easier by DVDs, the projection of which is less complicated than traditional film projection by celluloid. Nevertheless, we should not stop aiming to have good permanent cinema halls, including large multiplexes in some capital cities, in order to ensure that quality cinema projection does exist in Africa and in order to support and create a passion for the cinema. Therefore, we must always try to promote cultural infrastructure, theatres, cinemas etc.

What role exists for television?

Television will play an increasingly important role in Africa. We can no longer disassociate television from the cinema. The production of television series is very important because they tackle subjects rooted in the reality of everyday life and are able to better reflect changes in society because they take place over 20, 40, 60 episodes. These series also create well known acting stars across regions. Viewers from Senegal to Niger to Cameroon recognize these actors which may have positive consequences for the film industry further down the line because if investors choose to use them in films later, they can be sure that these actors have a certain well established market value. Therefore the television industry can play an important role in supporting the establishment of the film industry.

Is there really an opportunity to develop a vibrant film market in Africa without it being imposed from outside?

We have no choice. We cannot avoid the need to find our own responses to the important need for the filmed image. Producing our own images is not a luxury for Africa, it's a necessity, both social and cultural, even psychological. Africa lives in a culture of images; look at our funerals and our different rites of initiation. So, economically we simply have to reconnect with this need and that’s why I say that television and that small-budget independent productions play an important role. Each country has to invent their own images, and not just copy the worst of international cinema, like police stories, violence and hold-up movies. It is important to produce films that constitute true stories rooted in our culture and which draw their essence from the nature of Africans. It is important that we film everyday films with our own resources that are profitable. We need local productions rooted in the true realities of people, which are immediately accessible to people and which address their problems but also their dreams. India has been able to create such a film economy, because the Indian film industry offers products in which Indian filmgoers recognize themselves.

Talk to us about your training company Imagine.

Imagine is the culmination of my personal journey at the heart of the issue of television and cinema development in Africa. We can't escape the need for basic training which is the fundamental capital for the film industry. But after many professionals have been trained in the best schools in Europe or Africa they graduate and often they can’t find work and lose their skills. So the investment in their education is completely unproductive. I realized that there is a real need for short-term training of a very high quality. If we only rely on programs sponsored by donors we run the risk that these will be sporadic and will fail to truly capitalize on their experiences. At the beginning of this decade I said to myself that, taking into account the limits of state action in this area, it had perhaps become necessary that independent professionals get involved themselves in training professionals and that's how the idea for Imagine came about.

At Imagine we do not offer basic training. We distinguish three different levels of training; the first level is for young people aged 18-25 who, thanks to new technologies, have taken up the camera and started filming, using simple software. They can use PCs to edit their images and have learnt to add the soundtrack themselves. They have thus become storytellers using images. In the space of six weeks we give them a theoretical base to improve their natural talent et skills by teaching them concrete things such as lighting, camera movement etc which will allow them to develop their talent and produce better quality work.

The second level of training is for professionals and assistants who already have real experience, who have made films but who are not working as much as they would like. They are unable to progress nor to tackle more ambitious subjects. Level two training lasts four weeks and allows them to meet other high-level professionals in many different areas such as mise-en-scene, acting, editing, camera work, sound, stage decoration and make-up. The idea is to take people who already have professional experience and to boost them and make them meet other professionals who wish to collaborate. The objective of level two is to help participants so that we see more productions of a better quality.

The third level of training is for highly experienced professionals who wish to become trainers. So the objective is to give them the necessary pedagogical tools so that they can teach camera work, make-up, sound work etc. It is designed to maintain skills that already exist for all. Because I believe that we have strong cards to play and stories to tell to the rest of the world and to ourselves. We have to reach a mass level of production so that there is a significant level of local consumption in Africa and a certain level of production exported internationally.

We have three buildings and a fourth is under construction which will be a restaurant, library, internet room and DVD viewing facility. The infrastructure investment is entirelmy private and financed by myself. I only ask that institutions pay the cost of training, directly related to the fact that participants come to us to acquire real skills. A small amount of donated funds are used to buy equipment. All the teachers are professionals with real experience. None of the teachers are permanents, because we want those who are the best in their field and who continue to work. When they agree to come and teach they do so to impart the best of their knowledge to others who can use it. Our teachers are from all over. Next year we will welcome trainers from Canada. I want Imagine to be a place of openness and interaction penetration - a place where together we create a certain professional awareness. Imagine does not wish to be a monopoly. My ambition is that participants create Imagine at the local level in their own countries. I sincerely hope that other Imagines will be born elsewhere.