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From Ouagadougou to Marin: Gaston Kaboré Lands at MVFF34

Local film lovers extended a warm welcome to the master from Burkina Faso as he received the MVFF award last night after a screening of his classic 'Wend Kuuni" and a Q&A.

They call him the Godfather of African cinema, but with his wide grin and hearty laugh, is more Kris Kringle than Marlon Brando.

At a Sunday night, the master filmmaker took to the stage after a rare screening of Wend Kuuni, the 1982 debut film that sparked a "Back to the Villages" movement in African cinema and announced a major new talent to the international film world. Kaboré delighted audiences with his jovial nature while providing plenty of food for thought to a theater packed with cinephiles.

In a 45-minute on-stage interview, Kaboré and MVFF Programming Director Zoe Elton discussed the importance of African cinema and the efforts that Kabore and his colleagues are making in their home countries to create films and images that reflect their own culture and people. It was a serious conversation punctuated by many laughs, a balance that appeared to come quite naturally to the filmmaker.

It was the type of event that helped Mill Valley make its name as a serious festival with a strong commitment to lesser-known or more less-accessible international cinema. In her pursuit of new African cinema, Elton has traveled to Kaboré's native Burkina Faso multiple times to attend the famed FESPACO Film Festival, and it is there that she first became aware not only of Kaboré's might as a filmmaker, but also of his drive to create a thriving film culture in his tiny country.

Like so many other youngsters around the world, Kaboré's movie-going memories start with Charlie Chaplin, whose silent classics were screened in elementary schools across Burkina Faso (then known as Upper Volta) when Kabore was growing up.

"A lot of kids were walking like Charlie Chaplin the next day" after the screenings," Kaboré said with a jovial smile. "He was so able to tell things, even delicate things, like feelings and emotions, without using any words."

Even now when he watches Chaplin's classic Modern Times, Kaboré said that he can't watch all they way though because he laughs so hard that his stomach hurts and he has to stop the film.

The conversation turned to the more serious question of why African cinema is so important for a country like Burkina Faso, which has one of world's lowest literacy rates.

"Images are so important," he said. "Particularly for a country like ours where schools are not so developed... It's a means of communication and education."

In the absence of a strong written tradition, Kaboré said it was important for young Africans to see images created by their own people, particularly because there's so much competition from images coming in from the rest of the world.

"Today, with television and satellites, kids [in Africa] are consuming hours and hours of images every day," he said. "They're living in Africa but they're being pulled elsewhere. They're not rooted in their homelands enough, and they're missing the relationship to their own people. It's more and more difficult for them to have knowledge of their own culture... It's a real danger."

He has opened a film school in Burkina's capital of Ouagadougou, where he trains students in filmmaking technique along with other culturally-important subjects like sociology and anthropology. He has also begun lobbying the Minister of Education to make cinema a mandatory subject in secondary school.

With his infectious laugh and natural storytelling skills, it was not hard to be charmed by this master filmmaker. But beneath the laughs, his words left audiences with plenty to think about.

"How can you create citizens if they are not enough rooted in their own culture?" he asked. "Cinema is not a luxury, even for a developing country. We have a vital need for our own images in order to hold onto the possibility of defining ourselves."

The 411: Buud Yam, the sequel to , screens Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Rafael Film Center. Kaboré said he's in the midst of writing a third edition of the Wend Kuuni film series.

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