The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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07 June 2009

Florentine Yameogo: Women, children, youth, cultural heritage at the forefront - Burkina Faso

Florentine Yameogo: Women, children, youth, cultural heritage at the forefront - Burkina Faso

Excerpts from an interview with Florentine Yameogo held at the 15th FESPACO, February 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Translated from French. First published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television by Beti Ellerson (Africa World Press, 2000). Image: Screen capture with artistic representation.

I find the focus of your film, Melodies de femmes, about women having their say through songs particularly fascinating. Could you talk it?

Melodies de femmes, which is a 24-minute film, is told from the perspective of a young girl from the city. She recounts the lives of the women of her village who express themselves through their songs. The songs are used as a means of expression in traditional society.

Could you describe your experiences while making the film and why you chose this subject?

I chose this subject because often when I went on vacation in the village, the women sang a great deal. They sang when they were grinding millet, on their way to the river to wash the clothes. Generally, they sang when they worked. When they sing they send a message and sometimes this message expresses their joy, pain, suffering or aspirations. I was struck by the singing and asked them why they sang. I was told because they did not have the right to speak, particularly in public. When they left their homes, they could not express themselves.  It was forbidden for a woman to raise her voice. The only thing that was tolerated were songs, which allowed them to express whatever they wanted.

Often these were societies where there were polygamous marriages, and there were several co-wives.  When there is resentment among co-wives they sing to show this. When they feel that their husband favors one wife over the other, they sing about this while working. The husband feels that he is being attacked but he cannot really hold it against them. And this goes for other situations that they live. Thus, singing is their only means of expressing themselves.

I have observed as time goes on, that the women sing less and less. Before, I noticed that they worked mainly at the mill where they crushed grain, which was prepared for batter made of millet or corn and then cooked for the main meal. Today, with the modernization of technology, there are automated mills that are being installed just about everywhere, even in the most remote villages. This means that the women now go to the mills only to drop off the grain, they line up their recipients in front of the mill and they return home. Of course, this also means that they no longer sing. They also go to the public faucets where there is running water or to the water pumps, rather than to the river. Often there is jostling and pushing, one woman declaring to the other that she arrived first.  This means that not only do they no longer sing, but they also squabble among themselves.

In the past, the singing was a very elegant means to live their experience. When I realized that it was disappearing, I wanted to preserve this practice by doing this film. I also wanted to let the children, especially the city dwellers who do not know about this tradition, discover that another way of expressing oneself exists.

So, it was through the young girl who lived in the city that this story was recounted. I also noted that there was a parallel between the girl from the city and the girl from the village. The story, which was a message recounted using the oral tradition, was also told in epistolary form. While writing the letter, the young girl actually narrates the story of the film.

Yes, the young girl as city dweller has the chance to go to school and she can write her feelings about her experiences. That is something which did not exist in the traditional society.  It was through the oral tradition rather than through the written word that things were transmitted.  It also gave her the chance to express herself by writing about it. Through this adolescent girl, I reveal what existed and what is now disappearing.

Melodies de femmes was told through the perspective of a young girl, and as you stated, you made the film with young people in mind.  By the choice of themes for your films, do you actually attempt to target young people?

I made another film that also focuses on the youth.  It speaks about the extra-curricular activities that young people are involved in, and is earmarked for city dwellers. It is a portrait of a student, who in his spare time, plays in a "Do-Do" troupe, which is a cultural group in the neighborhood.  The film is used as an example to show that although one goes to school, one may also have an interest in one's own culture.

The children involved in the Troupe Do-Do create masks made of sponges to make different forms of animals.  Then they play music, and the animals dance.  It is very beautiful to see.  This film I also made for children.

Burkina Faso is the country that hosts FESPACO and is very committed to African cinema. Does this have a direct influence on the Burkinabés in terms of their appreciation of the cinema, especially African films?

The Burkinabés are very much cinema lovers. One observes this through their participation during several events that are organized during FESPACO.  Even outside of the festival, they go to see films often. Of course, one knows that images relay messages and different aspects of a culture are passed on from the perspective of the person who is behind the camera, who writes the script, and so on. Therefore, because there are more films that are produced outside than those nationally, this means that people are beginning to forget their own culture. I think that it is the role of the filmmakers in their respective countries, to attempt to restore our culture that is about to disappear, by bringing it to the screen.
The theme of FESPACO 1997 is "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth." The theme was chosen in order to highlight the importance that cinema has on young people.  Do you feel that your role as filmmaker reflects this?

I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" because it was a theme in which I was already interested.  Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children.  I work for the television and we have very few national programs for children.  We know that children like to imitate, and so everything that they see on television they try to imitate.  We are realizing that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development.

As it relates to themes on and for children, I had the chance to participate in a workshop organized in France in 1994, which focused on this theme.  We were sixteen participants from different African countries, and there was a second session on the same theme where fifteen other African participants attended; all the participants were women.  From this workshop, we ended up with some thirty different subjects since we each had to produce a particular topic.
Unfortunately, we were not able to find funding to complete the project.  It would have been wonderful to see these thirty films at FESPACO, directed by women around the theme of children, for children...

You just mentioned that the participants at this workshop were all women.  Would you say that children-focused films and programs tend to be made by women?

Yes, I would say there is a tendency.  I have observed that when there is an opportunity to participate in a workshop that is organized to bring together several African countries—and I have myself participated in two workshops for children—the majority of the participants are women.  Other women participants also notice in their countries—and I am again talking about national television—that this is an area that is designated for women, because men generally do not consider focusing on this area.  Women tend to be much more interested.  Perhaps it is also in part a maternal response.  Women are generally the ones who educate the children, and perhaps it is for this reason that a great many more women than men are interested in the needs of children.  Of course, this is a personal response.

What are your impressions of African cinema and what do you feel is your role within it?

When speaking of African cinema I think of it in terms of the content of the films that convey something cultural.  There is always this notion of culture that turns up repeatedly.  If we make films that truly reflect who we are, I think that it can be accepted everywhere, and we have the same level of technical experience as people anywhere else...Each country brings what is particular to its culture.


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