Through the lives of Bouba, the video club operator, and Jules Cesar, the djembe maker and player who sees the djembe, a skin-covered hand drum, as the big brother of cinema, Jean-Marie Teno turns the portrait of the Ouagadougou neighborhood of St. Leon into an introspection on his craft as a filmmaker, as well as a personal reflection on art, popular culture, and business in Africa today.
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© 2009, Les Films du Raphia
Set in St-Leon, a modest neighborhood tucked between the cathedral and two mosques in the city of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where for 40 years, the world's famous FESPACO (Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou) showcases the best achievements of African filmmaking, Sacred Places is a film about the fight to survive and to maintain one's dignity in a hostile environment.
Through the lives of three characters: Jules Cesar, the djembé maker and player, Bouba, the video-club manager of a neighborhood movie salon that also serves as a praying place, and Abbo a fifty years old senior technician who decided to become a public letter writer, JMT skillfully lays out his rich, very complex and profound observations on many paradoxes of today's Africa. One of the many contradictions the director displays is the absence of African films in African distribution at a time of remarkable tecnological advances:
"The digital era and the development of the internet have profoundly changed production, distribution and viewing of images around the world. With small budgets, independent films can be made and shown to the public in a matter of weeks or even days. Yet, despite this abundance of opportunities, having access to one's own images is still a distant dream for many in the cities and rural areas of Africa. It is in these places, where people are kept in the dark, with little hope on the horizon, where education and knowledge are needed the most," says Jean-Marie Teno.
Films of the award-winning Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno (JMT) "collectively add up to a motion picture portrait of Africa." Separately and together, they contribute a highly significant perspective to the struggles of Africans for self-identity and self-respect.
In his attempt to understand the present, JMT often investigates Africa's historical past. This time, however, the director turns his camera on his own profession, delving into the issues behind filmmaking in Africa today.
Sacred Places, JMT's new film, brings into view things that are personal, sacred and close to his heart: identity in times of globalization, the state of African cinema and the complicated relationship between art, popular culture and business. Honoring African traditions of oral culture, the director allows the richness of everyday conversations to place the film's weight on the words that are at the origin of any meaningful action.
"In the beginning was the Word," is the leitmotiv that illuminates this essay, a journey from a global and confused sense of modernity to the essence of African creativity.
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