Ouagadougou (AFP) – Africa’s biggest film festival kicked off in Burkina Faso on Saturday with the Sahel nation’s long-running jihadist insurgency looming large over the opening night.
A total of 170 entries have been selected for the FESPACO festival in the capital Ouagadougou, including 15 fiction feature films in contention for the Yennenga Golden Stallion award and a prize of around $30,000.
The president of FESPACO’s organising committee, Fidele Aymar Tamini, said the festival’s 28th edition would embrace the theme of “African cinemas and peace cultures” in the context of the crisis.
The prime minister of neighbouring Mali, the festival’s guest country of honour which is also grappling with a bloody jihadist insurgency, said culture had an “avant-garde role to play in the peace process”.
Mali and Burkina Faso are “brother countries” facing the “terrorist hydra” and “our fight for peace and sovereignty remains the priority,” Choguel Kokalla Maiga said to rapturous applause.
Around 60 dancers simulated fighting to the sound of beating drums on an immense stage in a performance called “20 million VDP”, referring to a civilian volunteer force that supports the Burkinabe army.
The ceremony’s organiser said the choreography was designed to showcase the “bravery” of Burkina Faso’s youth faced with the jihadist crisis, which spilled over from Mali in 2015.
Around 12 VDP members were killed in an attack in the unstable north earlier this week, which followed the deaths of at least 70 soldiers in the same region in two separate assaults blamed on jihadists.
The violence in Burkina Faso has killed more than 10,000 people and forced around two million to flee their homes.
Burkinabe Culture and Communications Minister Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said Mali and Burkina Faso, both ruled by military juntas that seized power in coups, were travelling on the same road in integration and cooperation projects.
Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela, also attending the ceremony, recently suggested a federation between the West African neighbours.
The festival is due to run until March 4.