OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso film director Apolline Woye Traore, who won three prizes at the country’s prestigious Fespaco festival on Saturday, knows a thing or two about challenges.
Born in 1976, she left her homeland at the age of seven and spent 17 years in the United States where she studied film and then worked in Los Angeles.
When she decided to return to focus her work on Africa, she found herself in a male-dominated industry and a society where her elders demanded a kind of deference that often hindered her ability to direct on the set.
“It was difficult,” she said in an interview with Reuters in the garden of her home in the capital Ouagadougou.
“I had to bang on the table. I had to be direct and raw. There were lots of fights before I imposed myself. I think if I had been a man, it wouldn’t have been like that.”
Frustrated by two-dimensional portrayals of African women on the screen, Traore aims to tell their stories her own way.
“Having women in the industry is very important. We have a different vision. We see things differently,” she said. “It’s not only in Africa.”
Her 2013 entry at Fespaco, “Moi Zaphira”, told the fictional story of a young woman who seeks to break out of the confines of her village and forge a better life for herself and her daughter.
Her latest film, “Frontieres”, centers on four market women who travel across West Africa from Dakar, Senegal to Lagos, Nigeria, braving corrupt border guards and the ever-present threat of violence to earn a living.
“It was an experience for me to really see how Africa struggles and how these extraordinary women struggle for a better life and confront all off these dangers,” Traore said.
“Frontieres” missed out on Fespaco’s top honor this year, which went to Senegalese director Alain Gomis for “Felicite”, the story of a nightclub singer in Congo’s dilapidated mega-city Kinshasa.
It did however pick up three prizes, including the Paul Robeson Prize for the best film by a director from the African diaspora.
Traore said she already has her next project in mind, though she declined to give details.
“I think in our trade the only way to impose yourself is to produce. It’s a very hard field,” she said. “It’s always a struggle, because it’s art and so you are always trying to convince people.”
For a related story on the festival, click on
Reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Susan Fenton