Burkina's Boubacar Diallo - a new kind of African filmmaker


June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 7, 2009 at 5:11 PM EDT

Burkinabe director Boubabcar Diallo is an example of a new kind of African filmmaker, not so much interested in making art house movies but trying to reach out to bigger audiences.

Quick, charming and business savvy, the 46-year-old journalist-turned filmmaker prides himself on being totally self-taught.

Starting out as the editor of a satirical newspaper he moved on to writing crime novels and poems and screenplays.

"I started writing screenplays for directors so that they would make the kind of movies that I myself, as an African film fan, wanted to see. But when nobody wanted to film my scenarios I decided to do it myself," he told AFP in an interview.

With a boyish grin and an infectious enthusiasm for his work Diallo now turns out homegrown blockbusters at the dizzying speed of two films a year.

His latest film Coeur de Lion (Lionheart) is a local crowd favourite at this year's Pan-African Film and Television Festival in Ouagadougou (FESPACO) where it is in competition for the festival's Golden Stallion award for best film.

So far the evening screenings for his film have been a sold out affair with festivalgoers and locals crowding into the halls, sitting on the steps to catch a glimpse of the historical drama.

Diallo's mission if to show that 'the African movie' is not a genre as such and that all genres can be adapted for local audiences. To prove his point his successes also include a police movie, a western, a romantic comedy and a political thriller. His next project is an African remake of Shakespeare's Romeo and Julliet.

He dismisses fellow African filmmakers who complain that the African public is not coming to see local films and bemoan the difficulties of getting foreign funding.

"I wonder if African filmmakers have given the public what they wanted," he said, confident that audiences do flock if you make the right film.

He proudly told AFP that his 2007 film "Traque a Ouaga" (Ouaga Chase) beat the James Bond blockbuster Casino Royal at the Burkina Faso box office.

As for foreign funding, Diallo -- happy to film in the cheaper digital format -- can get by without.

"To get European donors to commit to a film takes at least two or three years. What do you do in the meantime, a production company can not just be idle, you have to go out and find local partners," he explained.

"To finance my movies I look at the script and what kind of activities can fit in there. If I have a screenplay with motorcycle chases, I go and speak to a motorcycle brand and propose a product placement deal in exchange for financing."

His films have all been made on a shoestring budget of around 35,000 euros but Coeur de Lion had the biggest budget so far 250,000 euros which Diallo said was used among other things for shooting scenes with a real lion in a French studio. From the audiences surprised gasps during the pivotal lion fighting scene, it was money well spent.

Diallo, a big star in Burkina, is actually wary of the importance that is attached to the director in much of the African cinema which he says is too much a "cinema d'auteur". Instead he believes the continent should create its own leading ladies and men who can draw in the box office.

"I think African film would benefit enormously if we create headlining actors and actresses," he said.

"Few people remember the name of the director of the film but they go and see it because it is Denzel Washington or Brad Pitt who is playing the lead. We should have the same in Africa," said Diallo.

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