Sacred Places, 2009

During the Q&A, Jean-Marie Téno remarked that he was inspired to shoot Sacred Places as a result of seeing dramatic changes to the format of the 2009 FESPACO film festival in Burkina Faso, where the practice of holding open-air simulcasts of featured films for public viewing around the festival grounds in Ouagadougou – often, their only means of seeing these native films on their first run – had been essentially discontinued, and the proliferation of marketing agreements had resulted in the wholesale inclusion of too many officially sponsored films that diluted the overall representation of African films and, more importantly, abandoned the spirit of the festival’s founding principle to host a worldwide showcase for Pan-African cinema. For Téno, the displacement of native films to accommodate the interests of multinational corporate sponsors is a reminder that, with ever-encroaching globalism, African culture itself is at stake, and its salvation lies in creating novel, sustainable paradigms that reflect the realities of a developing economy. Examining the interrelation between globalism and cultural crisis from a grassroots level, Téno visits the working class district of St. Leon, a town that had been suggested by a local audience member as proof of the changing face of cinephilia that, in their limited access to big city venues and high-profile international festivals, has been largely ignored, even by native filmmakers. The first of these enterprising cultural warriors is Bouba, a cinephile and local businessman (granted, a tenuous label given that his business barely breaks even each month) who runs the humbly named Votre Ciné Club with a DVD player, a VCR, and modest television set, screening a different feature program each evening – complete with marquis-styled, home-made movie posters – to an appreciative crowd. For Bouba, the murky business model of using pirated DVDs is a necessary evil, explaining that his customers would prefer to see more African films but, at a retail cost of $25 for each home video – coupled with the limited popularity of the films abroad that makes them less desirable for piracy (and its significantly lower street price) – he is forced to compromise by programming more affordable Bollywood and martial arts films. Another is Jules César, a musical instrument craftsman who literally drums up support for the ciné club by announcing the evening’s slate of films with his djembe. Preferring to continue making handcrafted instruments even as mass production becomes an increasingly popular alternative, he sees his role as a guardian of the griot tradition – a conduit between the ancient tale-tellers and modern ones (filmmakers). Paralleling the age of African cinema to the average lifespan of an African – 50 years – Téno presents a sobering assessment of a native film industry in crisis, struggling to communicate the story of – and communicate with – its people. It is this integral connection that is insightfully reflected in the portrait of an eccentric engineer turned public writer who posts literary passages and assorted musings on an outdoor chalkboard each day, a fleeting act of cultural reinforcement and assertion of identity in the face of erasure.

© Acquarello 2009. All rights reserved.