(Photo: “La Nuit de la Verite” / “The Night of Truth,” 2004)
Welcome to Akoroko’s new weekly series, PERSPECTIVES, where we embark on a journey into the rich and diverse world of African cinema. The goal is to introduce you to the films of individual African filmmakers, especially those that are often under-explored, shedding light on their work and the narratives that have shaped African film.
Recognizing the limited accessibility to older African titles, we will primarily focus on films that are available to stream, serving as accessible entry points. Our inaugural spotlight is on Fanta Régina Nacro, who is widely regarded as the first woman from Burkina Faso to direct a narrative film. So join us in this introductory glimpse into her artistic vision and celebrating easily accessible African cinema for global audiences.
Born in 1962 in Tankodogo, Burkina Faso, African cinema pioneer Fanta Régina Nacro has used her films to challenge and question societal norms, traditions, and the role of men in Burkinabè society, often using humor as a powerful tool to address serious and often sensitive issues. Her distinctive storytelling style, which combines humor and satire with profound social commentary, has not only distinguished her as a leading figure in African cinema but also as a filmmaker of global relevance.
BACKGROUND: BURKINA FASO
For the uninitiated, Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa with a rich cultural history and a burgeoning film industry. The country hosts the biennial Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), one of the most prestigious film festivals in Africa. Despite the country’s political instability and economic challenges, its film industry has produced notable filmmakers like Gaston Kaboré and Idrissa Ouédraogo.
I want to call your attention to four of Nacro’s short films currently streaming on The Criterion Channel, including “A Certain Morning,” “Puk Nini,” “Konate’s Gift,” and “Bintou.” Collectively, they offer a vivid portrait of life in Burkina Faso, reflecting the complexities of its society, culture, and politics. The films, while diverse in their narratives, share common thematic strands that reflect the filmmaker’s commitment to addressing pressing social issues in her country and the wider African continent.
“A Certain Morning” (1992, 16 mins): Nacro’s debut film presents a day in the life of Riga, a rural farmer living with his family on the Mossi plateau. The tranquility of his existence is shattered when he discovers that his neighbor has been killed by bandits. The film utilizes a surreal and minimalist style to depict the realities of rural life in Burkina Faso, highlighting the resilience and dignity of the people.
“Puk Nini” (1995, 34 mins): A comedic yet insightful look at the issue of infidelity and the double standards that exist in society. The film revolves around two couples who are friends and neighbors: Moussa and Fatou, and Issa and Awa. Both Moussa and Issa engage in extramarital affairs, but their reactions differ when they discover that their wives are also cheating. Through humor and irony, the film exposes the hypocrisy and sexism of the male characters while celebrating the solidarity of the female characters.
“Konate’s Gift” (1998, 32 mins): Uses humor to address the serious issue of HIV/AIDS, promoting safe sex practices and challenging the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS testing. The story follows Konate, a truck driver who has multiple sexual partners. After hearing a radio program about AIDS, he decides to get tested but fears disclosing the information to his wife. The film educates the audience about prevention and testing while criticizing the ignorance and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS.
And “Bintou” (2001, 28 mins): A drama about a woman’s struggle for independence and self-determination against traditional constraints. Bintou is a young mother working as a seamstress to support her family. She aspires to open her own shop, but her husband and mother-in-law impose limits on her ambitions. The film uses realism to depict the challenges and aspirations of women in Burkina Faso, emphasizing their resilience through it all.
CONTEXT + COMPARISONS
From Senegalese pioneer Safi Faye (who died in February) to Ramata-Toulaye Sy (whose feature debut, “Banel & Adama,” represented Senegal world at the 76th Cannes Film Festival this month) Nacro is part of a tradition of African women filmmakers who have used their work to explore social, political, and cultural issues in their respective countries, contributing to the diversity and richness of African cinema.
In a broader context, Nacro’s use of humor in everyday occurrences to critique societal norms and traditions might remind one of the works of American filmmaker Nicole Holofcener or British filmmaker Mike Leigh. Like Nacro, these filmmakers use humor and satire to explore social issues and human relationships, emphasizing realistic and character-driven narratives. However, Nacro’s films are deeply rooted in the cultural context of Burkina Faso, providing a unique perspective that sets her apart. Collectively, they contribute to the diverse tapestry of cinema.
In addition to her short films, Nacro has directed a notable feature film titled “The Night of Truth” (2004) — a political drama set in an unnamed African country emerging from a long and brutal civil war. It received critical acclaim and was well-received at international film festivals in 2004 and 2005. Unfortunately, it’s not readily accessible to stream or buy as a disc. Nacro is still very much alive, which increases the likelihood of “The Night of Truth” becoming accessible on various platforms in the future. Maybe even The Criterion Channel, where, with a subscription, you should go now to watch her short films.
With a total runtime of around 110 minutes, these four short films offer a unique window into life in Burkina Faso and the wider African continent, tackling serious social issues with humor and wit. They are a great starting point, accessible to a global audience who will not only be entertained but also educated, provoking thought, reflecting the power of cinema as a tool for social change.
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