French-lingo African pix hit Cannes

Films get spotlight as region aims to amp awareness

PARIS — With four films from French-speaking Africa as official selections in Cannes Film Festival sections this year, the Intergovernmental Francophone Agency says its efforts to promote films from that part of the world are finally paying off.

“By putting films from this region in the spotlight at Cannes for the past five years, we’ve given other French-language African films a push to find financing and chance to see the light of day,” Jean-Claude Crepeau, the director of the agency’s cinema and media section, told a Paris press conference on Tuesday. Ghassan Salhib’s “Terra Incognita” (Lebanon), and Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Heremakono” (Mauretania) will screen in Un Certain Regard, Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s “Abouna” is the first time a film from Tchad has been in the Directors Fortnight, and Assane Kouyate’s “Kabala” (Mali) is running in Critics Week and, as a frosh flick, is in competition for the Camera d’Or.

“We’re especially proud of ‘Kabala’ which marks a return of African films to the Critics Week sidebar after a seven-year absence,” Crepeau said.

The agency will promote films it has co-produced from a stand in the fest’s International Village. The agency invests $2.5 million euros ($2.2 million) a year on 15 film and 45 television projects.

In addition to the films selected in fest sections, this year the agency will bring to Cannes “Le chant de la Noria” (Noria’s Song) from Tunisia, “Paris selon moussa” (Paris According to Moussa) from Guinea, “Nha Fala” from Guinea-Bissau, “Le prix du pardon” (The Price of Pardon) from Senegal and “Le silence de la foret” (The Silence of the Forest) from Central Africa.

Film professionals and journalists can see the films in a projection room equipped with a giant video screen in the Unifrance space.

The agency will also bring directors and actors from the various films to Cannes, as well as two African distributors, including Augustin Dahouet Boigny who owns a theater chain that shows African movies, a rarity on the continent.

Since most movie theaters in Africa are in the cities and show only American blockbusters, the agency has created four traveling digital movie projection systems, which bring African films to more remote areas in Togo, The Democratic Congo Republic, Senegal and the Ivory Coast.

The agency has earmarked funds to transfer 10 French-lingo African films a year to DVD.

“Once we transfer a film from the African cinema patrimony to DVD, we have contributed to saving that film,” Crepeau stated.