“We need local productions rooted in the true realities of people, which are immediately accessible to people and which address their problems but also their dreams.” (Gaston Kaboré)
Here is a director i barely know, but having seen the marvellous Buud Yam, a wise, assured film, that is beautiful on the outside and beautiful on the inside, i thought he deserves more attention. I’m also impressed with the quiet understated approach of the earlier Wend Kuuni. Drawing on information from Harvard which awarded him a fellowship for distinguished film-making:
“Born in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) in 1951 and raised in the capital city of Ougadougou, Kaboré maintained a lifelong interest in his family’s rural heritage while pursuing studies that eventually led him to the Sorbonne in Paris. There he divided his time between pursuit of an advanced degree in history and his burgeoning interest in the cinema, fed in part by his interest in the representation of Africa abroad and by an encounter with the work of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene (a Fellowship recipient in 2001).Kaboré returned to Burkina Faso in 1976 after completing film school in France and was named director of the Centre National du Cinéma. He also became a teacher at the Institut African d’Etudes Cinématographiques, where his screenwriting and filmmaking courses were augmented by his own early productions. His first feature, Wend Kuuni (1982), was the first full-length film to be made in Burkina Faso, and it launched a career that would by turns mix extraordinary artistic achievement—rewarded by major awards at international festivals and a French César—with significant service to the field, especially as president of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers. Kaboré’s films are most often noted for his reclamation of the poetry and clarity of traditional African storytelling and for his singularly lyrical cinematic language. Yet the director has long insisted that his films—like those of other leading African directors—represent a “cinema of urgency,” engaged by the attempt to “profoundly explain today’s reality.”
Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift)
Burkina Faso 1982, 35mm, color, 75 min.
One of the first films to adapt the measured rhythms of traditional African storytelling, Wend Kuuni recasts a precolonial tale of village life during the Mossi empire into a lyrical cinematic form. A peddler crossing the savanna discovers a child lying unconscious in the bush. When the boy comes to, he can’t explain who he is, where he has come from, or what has happened to him: he is mute. The peddler leads him back to the nearest village, where a family welcomes him, gives him the name Wend Kuuni—“God’s Gift”—and a loving sister with whom he bonds deeply. Wend Kuuni regains his speech only after witnessing a tragic event that prompts him to reveal his own painful story. Kaboré uses this simple tale to demonstrate that traditional Mossi values of community can still provide answers to many problems besetting modern Africa, fractured by rural dislocation and political conflict.
Zan Boko (Homeland)Burkina Faso 1988, 35mm, color, 91 min. With Joseph Nikiema, Colette Kaboré Mòoré with English subtitles
In the Mossi culture, one of the rites attending the birth of a child and its induction as a new member of the community involves the burial of the placenta. This act consecrates the first link between the newborn and the nurturing earth, dwelling place of ancestors and spirits that protect the family and social group. The space in which the placenta is buried is called “Zan Boko”—a phrase that connotes the religious, cultural, and affective relations that bind the child to the land and that embraces the notions of “rootedness” and “belonging.” Kaboré tells the poignant story of Tinga, who resists the encroaching urbanization of his native territory. The specific rhythms and vision of the rural community—as well as its values, social relationships, and individual and collective destinies—are brutally altered as the urban universe implants itself, in the form of a palatial mansion replete with swimming pool, onto this ancient rural territory.
Madame HadoBurkina Faso/UK 1992, 16mm, color, 13 min. With Hado Porgho Léontine Mòoré with French subtitles
This film portrait of the celebrated Mossi folk singer and dancer Madame Hado, in her early sixties at the time of filming, presents the artist’s music and dance as she reveals aspects of her rich artistic life.
RabiBurkina Faso 1992, 35mm, color, 62 min. With Yacouba Kaboré, Tinfissi Yenbanga Mòoré with English subtitles
A blacksmith falls off his bicycle when he tries to avoid a tortoise who crosses his path. He brings the animal to his twelve-year-old son, Rabi, who becomes so fascinated that he forgets his chores at his father’s shop. When the angry smith gets rid of the tortoise, it is an elderly neighbor, Pusga, who finds another to console the boy. Rabi wants desperately to tame the animal, and this new obsession leads him to defy paternal authority. Pusga comes to the rescue again, gently opening the boy’s eyes through his Socratic teachings to the visible and invisible ways of nature. Rabi gains access to concepts of liberty, responsibility, and respect for life and, in turn, awakens in the septuagenarian sentiments that had been long buried.
Roger, Civil Servant
Directed by Gaston Kaboré and Ouoba Motandi
Burkina Faso 1993, video, color, 20 min.
Mòoré with English subtitles
Roger has just passed the civil service exams with flying colors and applies himself with enthusiasm to the new job he has won. Because of his honesty, assiduity, proficiency, and punctuality, he quickly becomes an object of scorn to his coworkers and superiors, who find his altruism a threat to the system of self-serving complacency they have long enjoyed.
Chronicle of a Declared Failure (Chronique d’un échec annoncé)Burkina Faso 1993, video, color, 22 min. French
This caricature of government service tells the story of a man who has just received a ministerial post and wishes to serve his country with honor and competence. Quickly, however, he is sucked into the quicksand of unproductive public servants and paralyzing alliances.
A Tree Called Karite (Un arbre appelé Karité)Burkina Faso 1993, 16mm, color, 17 min.
This is the study of a tree considered to be blessed by the gods because of the place it occupies in the traditional food, medicine, and cosmetics of West Africa and in the region’s rich culture and public imagination.
Burkina Faso 1997, 35mm, color, 97 min.
With Serge Yanogo, Amssatou Maiga
Mòoré with English subtitles
Kaboré’s most recent feature film, which took the prestigious Etalon De Yenenga award at the Pan-African Film Festival in Ougadougou, is a sequel of sorts to his celebrated Wend Kuuni. Set at the beginning of the nineteenth century, deep in a bend of the River Niger, it reprises the title character of the earlier film—the mute orphan boy adopted by a village family, now a young man doted on by his stepparents but shunned as an outsider by the villagers. When his beloved adopted sister falls mysteriously ill, Wend Kuuni is blamed and, desperate to restore her to health, he sets out on an epic journey in search of “lion’s herbs,” the elusive cure described to him by a village elder. While it presents a traditional coming-of-age narrative, the film broaches broader issues that in Kaboré’s view have the capacity either to affirm or to destroy the world and its humanity: acceptance, tolerance, and dialogue on the one hand; fear of the other, defiance, intolerance, and exclusion on the other.
(Harvard Film Archive)
Kaboré has also produced Zan Boko, Cilia Sawadogo’s short The Cora Player (writer too), and for TV, as well as writing his own films.
""…(M)y father taught me a lot of things," Kabore said in a 1984 Liberation interview. “In spite of the fact that he had left his village at the age of ten. . ., he kept an intimate relationship with his native environment, which he transmitted to me. For instance, he has always been closely attached to land.”
So is Kabore. His utopian folk tales, all set in an unnamed bush village thirty kilometers from Ouagadougou, chronicle the native people (of the Mossi ethnic group, speaking in the Moore language) who have made homes here for centuries, and celebrate their civility: their respect for the elderly, their communal conscience, their symbiotic relationship with animal and vegetable life, and with the earth.
Film to film: the same yellow-grass topography, the same arrid terrain, semi-amateur actors mixed in with real villagers doing their business: goat herding, whittling, selling wares in the market. As Kabore shows it, the ebb-and-flow between the sexes is mostly egalitarian; and because his own vantage is so non-sexist, he spends quality time with women being jokey and chummy, and being pregnant.
Kabore’s shooting style? Leisurely takes, medium and long shots, a very occasional closeup. Kabore discovered cinema, he’s explained, through Senegal’s Ousmane Sembene, not through plot-driven Hollywood. Scenes with protagonists are given no more weight than anecdotal sequences with unidentified villagers.
Kabore has two kinds of films: (a) mythic ones set in pre-colonial times, before the arrival of the white man, in which the Mossi people see themselves, and their (oral) history, as the center of the universe, and (b) satiric ones set in today’s post-colonialist world, in which the upwardly mobile populace has taken on the worst trappings of their former captives, the French."
Kaboré was instrumental in setting up IMAGINE, an Educational Institute in Ouagadougou. He is director of the Institut Africain d’Education Cinématographique:
Kaboré’s 10 favourite films, Sight & Sound poll, 2012
Ben-Hur 1959 William Wyler
Mandabi 1968 Ousmane Sembene
Modern Times 1936 Charles Chaplin
Night of the Hunter, The 1955 Charles Laughton
Nights of Cabiria 1957 Federico Fellini
Rear Window 1954 Alfred Hitchcock
Thorn Birds, The 1983 Lee Stanley
Ugly, Dirty and Bad 1976 Ettore Scola
Where is My Friend’s House? 1989 Abbas Kiarostami
Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?: A Zen Fable 1989 Yong-Kyun Bae
It seemed to me watching Buud Yam that Kaboré must surely be a good kind gentle man. My expectation is being reinforced. Our shared humanity, a better world, and what matters most in a film is its heart, its soul.Read less