Kabore's Imagine school trains Burkina Faso filmmakers

OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO — On a sweltering afternoon in the dusty capital of Burkina Faso, a group of students gather in a small courtyard, excitedly talking about camera angles and scripts.

Behind them, written in hieroglyphics on the wall of a two-story building, is the word “Imagine” — a challenge to students at this Burkinabe film school to think big.

Brainchild of Gaston Kabore — the founding father of cinema in Burkina Faso — the Imagine film school has trained more than 600 students since opening its doors in 2003. In a country where most of the population relies on subsistence farming, Kabore has dared a younger generation of aspiring filmmakers to rise above the challenges and embrace the possibilities provided by film.

Kabore is no stranger to adversity. The 59-year-old helmer suffers from a degenerative eye disease that forces him to rely on his peripheral sight, a sad irony for a man whose vision has helped to put his country on the filmmaking map.

The director’s early work won him international acclaim. His 1997 pic “Buud Yam” won top honors at Fescapo, Africa’s biggest film festival, held in Ouagadougou every two years.

It has been more than a decade since Kabore lensed his last film, but in that time he’s mentored young filmmakers and launched the school, where courses and workshops cover all the practical aspects of filmmaking, from scriptwriting to sound and lighting. Helmers from across Africa and Europe pitch in as visiting lecturers.

But for Kabore, the school’s importance goes beyond technical training.

“What we want to do in our workshops is not only to show (students) how to use the machines,” he says. “We want them to learn how to go inside their own desires, how to excavate, how to go deeper into their roots.”

The school has been a personal mission for Kabore, who has invested tens of thousands of dollars into its founding. Construction has come in fits and starts, when money allows. A new wing was completed recently; a 200-seat theater, still being built, is expected to open next year.

Imagine is one of five film institutes in Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African nation that, despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, is considered the capital of African film.

The cash-strapped nation’s government has always been a generous supporter of the local film industry despite its limited resources. A partnership with the European Union has allowed the building the of a post-production facility that is one of the most sophisticated on the continent. The move, says Kabore, “shows that they understand that we cannot suddenly stop producing films. If we stop producing, we shall lose a part of our national (identity),” he says.

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