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.