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Hassouna Mansouri
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The whirl of Film festivals

In the past, film events used to promote distribution. Step by step, they started to get involved in production, creating film funds, film projects etc.
World cinema is almost completely limited to film festivals. Nowadays, and all over the world, the public is much more motivated to see films in festivals than at commercial screenings. In the context of African cinema, this has special
repercussions on film distribution, and incidentally, on the relation between films and the public.

Films are selected for so many festivals that it seems that it is not really important for directors whether their films will be released in the commercial circuit in their own countries or not. Film festivals are more attractive to most of them than distribution. Their films are screened in a lot of festivals all around the world. Few of them have the chance to be released in Europe. This is the case of Daratt by Mahemet Saleh Haroun from Tchad and Bled number one by Rabah Ameur Zaïmech from Algeria. The first was released recently in France ; the second is released in the Netherlands.
Most of the time, directors have to choose whether to participate in some festivals or to wait until it will be possible to distribute their films in Africa. In fact this was the situation for a long time in the past because of the conditions of production specific to African cinema. It is very common that there are not enough prints for a film to be distributed and to
participate at the same time in film festivals. In these conditions, and in a context where distribution is quite agonizing, the dilemma is even more problematic.

Actually, there is no real choice. Sometimes, dates of festivals are very close to each other. And, of course, it is difficult, impossible even, for an African film to be selected for many festivals at the same time. At the last JCC, Carthage Film Festival, November 2006 (Tunisia), the older of the two[1] prestigious biannual film festivals in the black
continent, many filmmakers didn't participate even if they were in competition. They were mainly those who had big successes in the Occident: Abderrahamane Sissako, Mahamet Saleh Haroun, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmech,…
Some of them were selected for European film festivals taking place around the same dates.

Films are made in order to be shown. This is the first reason, perhaps the main one, why filmmakers like to go from one festival to another. Nevertheless, nobody denies that film festivals are essentially markets.
People go there to do business and develop a film industry. They know that films cost a lot and they have to be pragmatic, otherwise they would not survive. Now, this is not always possible with African film festivals. Film projects are mainly developed in the biggest world events: Cannes, Berlin,
Rotterdam, Sundance, and so on… There is no real practical need for African professionals to attend festivals in the black continent. Even Carthage and Ouagadougou don't offer enough possibilities for them to develop film projects or distribution.

Since the 70's, JCC and FESPACO, were practically the main entrances to the market of African films. Buyers and sellers used to meet there. There was even a convention to guarantee the distribution of the winners of the two festivals in the two countries: Tunisia an Burkina Faso. This was never really put into practice, and worse, nowadays it doesn't exist any more. We can understand then why they don't attract buyers and producers whether they are Africans or not. For filmmakers, there is no concrete interest in participating in these events, unless to meet the African public.

In fact, African film festivals are very popular.
Actually, the public likes a lot of films during the festival period. Film theatres are completely full: in Ouagadougou for Sub-Saharan films and in Carthage for North African and mainly for Tunisian films. But what about afterwards and out of festivals? The situation is completely different. A big success during the festival is not necessarily a guarantee of a commercial success for the film when it is released.

This is to say that the relation between the public and films is changing completely. Films are seen on television, on DVDs, at festivals but less and less in the normal distribution. The habits of the cinephile are changing so profoundly and quickly that it is really frightening. But it is also a new cultural phenomenon to think about.

By Hassouna Mansouri

Article paru dans De Filmkrant (Revue de cinema, Pays-Bas)

[1] Ouagadougou

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   liens films

Bled Number One 2005
Rabah Ameur-Zaïmèche

Daratt (Saison sèche) 2006
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

   liens artistes

Ameur-Zaïmèche Rabah

Haroun Mahamat-Saleh

Sissako Abderrahmane

   liens structures

Burkina Faso | Ouagadougou 01

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