FESTICAB Burundi

Sherif Awad-Film Critic-Egypt
by Sherif Awad
After Akrykamera in Warsaw, the seventh edition of the
International Festival of Cinema and Audiovisual in Burundi (FESTICAB) started
on April 24 and lasted until April 30 in the capital Bujumbura.  FESTICAB works in the context of the East
African Film Network (EAFN), which was born in FESTICAB 2011 as a direct result
of the implementation of The East African Community (EAC), the regional
intergovernmental organisation of the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania
and Uganda.

The trip of Cairo to Bujumbura, including the airports’
transits and technical stops, is more than fifteen hours. I was not told while
checking-in that the connection Addis Ababa-Kigali will have a technical stop
in Entebbe Airport and so if I wasn’t informed by the stewardess that we are in
Uganda and I should stay on the plane, I could have been the star of a new film
called “Lost in Africa”.
The opening night went softly at the French Institut where a
musical presentation by the tambours of Burundi started the show. These
tambours (drums) occupied a legendary place in the Burundian culture as they symbolized
the royal legitimacy and sustainability of the nation. They are also considered
to be sacred objects that must be present during the great events related to
Burundi.
Léonce Ngabo, the founder and the current president of both
FESTICAB and EAFN, has a very cinematic biography. He was born in a family of
musicians and so he learned to play guitar at the Jesuit College. In 1973, he
won the first national song contest and made 45 tours before studying chemistry
at Algiers University only to return to his homeland to teach at the National
School of Telecommunications. Considered a patriotic song, Sagamba Burundi, a song
he wrote and sang in 1970s can be viewed on YouTube with many of his musical
works. In 1989, Ngabo was supported by Swiss producer Jacques Sandoz to write
and direct a feature debut called Gito, that became the first ever
feature film in the history of Burundi cinema. It tells the story of the title
character who is a young African intellectual returning home from France with
numerous academic degrees and ministerial ambition. The film won awards in
international festivals like Carthage (Tunisia), Namur (Belgium), three awards
at the Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Second Prize of
Youth Section at Cannes (France), Best Picture at both Vues d’Afrique in
Montreal (Canada) and Lisbon (Portugal). When the civil war started in 1993,
Ngabo went into exile in Canada where he worked at Quebec from 1996 to 2000, and
for Vues d’Afrique in Montreal. In 2006, Ngabo returned to Bujumbura then
started on founding FESTICAB. 
The festival choose one of the competitive films of the
shorts to be shown at the opening night. Written and directed by Monique Mbeka
Phoba, Soeur Oya or Sister Oya is set in the Belgian Congo of the
1950s, where Congolese schoolchild Godelive is facing a hard time communicating
with her schoolmates at the Catholic boarding school Mbanza-Mboma, which was the
premiere French language school for Congolese girls at that era. Nevertheless,
Godelive rediscovers her talents of singing with the help of her teaching nun,
played by Laura Verlinden, who is also having troubles to isolate her emotions
for the African gardener. For her first short fiction, Phoba adapted the years
of her own mother in college Mboma Mbanza near Leopoldville with inspiration
from Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story (1959) starring Audrey Hepburn as
a religious yet struggling Belgian nun in a Congolese hospital. The title Sister
Oyo
means in Lingala, “That sister there, is she really what she appears to
be?”…
As jury president of the Short Film Competition, I had to
watch Sister Oyo with another thirteen African shorts in the confines of
my hotel room adjacent to Lake Tanganyika because, the day I arrived in
Bujumbura, protesters clashed with police after current president Pierre
Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third term, although the
constitution allows only two. FESTICAB had to cancel many screenings and
parallel conferences as most Burundians stayed home in fear of violence or
robbery during the protests. So more from FESTICAB next week hopefully.

Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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