- Two visitors were killed in a stampede during the opening ceremony of the pan-African Fespaco biennial film festival, organised in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. About 15 persons were reported injured during the stampede on Saturday. The accident has already cast a shadow on Africa's leading film festival.
The deadly stampede occurred when officials opened the gates to the Ouagadougou open air stadium to let the large crowd into the Fespaco festival's free opening celebrations on Saturday, which also featured the famous Malian singer Salif Keita. Thousands immediately started rushing to the most shaded parts of the stadium, to hide from the burning sun and heat.
In the chaos that followed, tens of persons fell below the quickly moving crowd. According to Ouagadougou authorities, at least two persons were killed in the stampede and between ten and twenty visitors suffered injuries. The two deaths were both reported to be young girls.
As the opening ceremony finally took place, Fespaco Director Baba Hama ordered a minute of silence to commemorate those who had died in the stampede. This weekend, condolences were also expressed by the Fespaco spokesman and the Burkinabe parliament. It was nevertheless decided to go on with the eight-day festival.
The pan-African film festival has been celebrated in the Burkinabe capital since 1969. Since 1972, the government of Burkina Faso has promoted the festival, which is celebrated every second year. During the last few decades, Fespaco has turned into the main event in Africa's underestimated film industry, gathering an audience and contributors from the entire continent.
This year will see twenty movies from ten African countries compete for the festival's top award, the Stallion of Yennenga. Among those are the home favourite, the "Ouaga Saga" by Burkinabe director Dani Kouyaté, describing the lives of a group of youths in Ouagadougou in an optimistic way. After its success in national cinemas, the Burkinabe audience hopes the international jury at Fespaco may honour the local movie.
There are however other favourites to the Stallion of Yennenga. Among those are "A Childhood Love" by Senegalese film veteran Ben Diogaye Bčye, the South African movies "Beat the Drum" (by David Hickson), "Drum" (by Zola Maseko) and "Max and Mona" (by Teddy Mattera), "Le Grande Voyage" by Morocco's Ismael Ferroukhi, "Les Habits neufs du Gouverneur" by Congo Kinshasa's star director Mweze Ngangura and the Angolan movie "The Hero" by Zézé Gamboa.
Most favourites to the Fespaco award are movies digging into serious and touchy issues, such as Africa's civil wars, the AIDS pandemic and poverty. The Angolan movie for example studies the destruction of the country after decades of civil war, while an Algerian movie - "El Manara" by Belkacem Hadjadj - hides nothing of the brutality Algerians lived through during the rise of fundamentalist Islam. Many films however have a much lighter aspect.
For the citizens of Ouagadougou, the Fespaco festival mainly is a large cultural celebration bringing life, celebrity and pride to the Burkinabe capital. Burkinabe take great pride in the biennial and all the positive international focus it usually brings to their capital. Popular participation has steadily increased during the 19 festival events since 1969.
The deadly incident at this year's Fespaco opening is the first-ever serious accident occurring in the festival's long history. Critics say that the festival has grown out of proportion compared to available security and emergency personnel in Ouagadougou. Fespaco has become a very popular event among the Burkinabe, especially the free sessions at the capital's stadium.
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