Marie-Clémentine Dusabejambo is only the second Rwandan filmmaker to have her film selected for the prestigious Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO).
The first was Joel Karekezi, who debuted at the festival in 2013 courtesy of his short film, The Pardon.
FESPACO is the biggest film festival on the continent, and happens every two years in Ouagadougou, the capital Burkina Faso in the month of March. This year’s was the 25th edition.
The festival ended on March 3rd, with an award ceremony for best films in various categories.
Dusabejambo walked away with not just one, but two awards; the coveted Thomas Sankara Prize, and the La Chance award for her short film, A Place For Myself.
The Thomas Sankare prize is the more prestigious of the two. It was introduced at the previous festival in 2015, in honor of Thomas Sankara, who was president of Burkina Faso between 1983-1987, and who was a distinguished soldier and Pan-Africanist.
Released early last year, A Place For Myself addresses the plight of Persons with Albinism in particular, but also thematically tackles the issue of marginalization in society.
“It was a surprise! I didn’t know and it seems like I was the only one who didn’t know I would be receiving an award. People in my entourage knew,” Dusabejambo explained.
“When I got on stage I didn’t say anything. I was totally speechless. It was the second time a Thomas Sankara Prize was being given out at FESPACO. Everyone was waiting for it because Thomas Sankara was a great hero in Burkina Faso.”
However she decries the poor representation of Rwanda at this festival in particular and other such cultural forums generally;
“There were few Rwandans, Yolanda Mukagasana with a documentary film, and another Rwandan girl in the film industry but who lives in Berlin. She was there for a workshop. I talked with her one night and asked why are we the only Rwandans here because other countries all had big delegations representing them.”
“We seem not to be connected to other countries’ cultural activities and I think this should come from the ministry of culture and the film federation to send people to other countries and festivals to have a stand to talk about our industry.”
A Place For Myself
Its production was completed early last year, and shortly after, it premiered at the Goethe Institut in Kigali.
That same year it scooped tree awards at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), including the Ousmane Sembene Award –which is replicated in all major African film festivals. Sembene was a legendary Senegalese filmmaker –the first African to make a film and to make it to the Cannes Film Festival. The award goes to films that awaken society to their rights.
She explains that the film is not just about the plight of albinos:
“The emotions it brings out are not only for albinos. It’s about all the people who are struggling to be accepted in society. At the screening, mothers who have kids with other disabilities told me when they saw the film they thought about their own children.”
Dusabejambo spent one week in Burkina Faso.
“The first thing that impressed me was women on bikes with colorful kitenge and baskets on their heads and babies on the back which showed me how the women there work hard. Here when you find a woman riding a motor it’s a surprise but there you see hundreds of them in traffic and it’s normal so everyone minds their business.
People there have curiosity about Rwandan films made by Rwandans because most of what they have watched are films about Rwanda made by foreigners.”
“I learnt a lot because at FESPACO there’s a lot of African films made by Africans and it was very important to me, to see how they tell their stories. We have this way of putting emotions around the words and images in a simple way that speaks to you. I think as Africans we are very connected in many ways.”
A Place For Myself will be screened at the Milano Film Festival in Italy this March, although Dusabejambo won’t attend. Instead she will be going to the Luxor Film Festival in Egypt (Short Films category) and return to work on production of her new short film.