Mengistu film wins top African award

Africa's main film festival has awarded top prize to a film about the regime of Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Film posters in Cinéma Burkina, Ouagadougou.
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An Ethiopian film bringing to life the horrifically brutal 1970s and 1980s regime of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam has taken top honours at Africa's main film festival. "Teza" by US-based, Ethiopian-born director Haile Gerima was the jury's unanimous choice for this year's Golden Stallion of Yennenga, the award for best film at the gathering in Ouagadougou, considered Africa's Oscars. The beautifully shot film switches between past and present as it tells the story of an idealistic scientist who studied in Germany in the 1970s before returning to Ethiopia during the Mengistu era.
It deals with big themes such as emigration and dictatorship, racism and war, also the position of women in Ethiopian society. But Mr Gerima manages not to preach to his audience. As the director could not be in the Burkina Faso capital to pick up the award himself, it was accepted on his behalf by his sister Selome Gerima, who co-produced the film. "Haile asked me to convey his happiness," she said upon accepting the award.
Earlier on Friday, Ms Gerima had told how she and her brother had struggled for 14 years to bring the epic story to the screen and explained why there had been such an emotional response in Ethiopia, where the film has played to packed-out audiences since its Jan 3 premiere. "It is a very sensitive film and it makes you remember what it was like (under Mengistu). Many people have forgotten but when they see the film they remember. When we show the film people come up to us afterwards to tell us, 'I've lost my brother' and so on."
The runner-up Silver Stallion at Africa's biggest film festival, also known as FESPACO, went to South Africa's John Kani for "Nothing but the Truth". Adapted from a play, it explores a librarian's experiences with racism in South Africa during and after the apartheid era. The Bronze Stallion went to audience favourite "Mascarades" (Masquerades), an Algerian comedy about a boy who invents an imaginary rich suitor for his narcoleptic sister.
The RFI audience award went to Burkinabe director Missa Hebie for "Le Fauteuil" (The Armchair). Moroccan documentary "Nos lieux interdits" (Our forbidden places) by Leila Kilani about political oppression in her homeland took home the award for best documentary. * AFP