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Review: The Siren of Faso Fani

BY DANICA HANSEN

The Siren is Faint but Still Singing… What looms ahead for the ‘cloth of the country?’ Burkinabe director, Michel K. Zongo documents the textile industry of his home town Ouagadougou, A personalized view of the documentary in competition, The Siren of Faso Fani. 

The Siren of Faso Fani documents the weaving industry in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, lamenting the closing of the prominent textile plant Faso Fani, and looking at the prospects looming ahead. Director Michael K. Zongo searches the aftermath of the plant’s shutdown, interviewing old employees as they weave an uncertain future. We see nostalgic interviews with cotton farmers and weavers, while vintage radio programs remind us of Ouagadougou’s heyday, the jovial radio voice ironic against the contemporary footage. Zongo is not just milling around. The film makes a hopeful shift when we see the women of Ouagadougou learning from the old employees of Faso Fani. Their solidarity is apt since the name of the old plant means “The Cloth of the Country.”

Last year I spent time volunteering with missionaries in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I remember being happier in those days. Watching this film took me back to my visits to the rural parts of these African countries. Maybe it is resilience, or a fire that will not burn up, because there is a sense mystic charm in those villages that one can never destroy. The Siren of Faso Fani filled me with compassion. I thought of Laura Nix’s documentary The Yes Men are Revolting, the Ugandan woman who lamented the effects of climate change in a rural place, that didn’t contribute to the cause (The Yes Men are Revolting) is also competing for the coveted prize of Best Documentary in show at this year’s festival).

What set this film apart was not its construction, but it’s content. I could feel Zongo’s sense of hope through the lens. I have often grappled with the misfortune of Colonialism, and one moment in Zongo’s film forced me to face the reality of this struggle. An old weaver – busy with his pre-industrial loom – spoke (with more than a hint of sarcasm I might add) of how the white men came with their machines because they were more intelligent… Of how the people of his land cannot be better than the white man, but they continue trying. The small insecurity woven in the lines of this old man’s face and eyes alive with just a glimpse of fire, affected me deeply. The more I look at the world the more I think that insecurity is always the cause of strife. Like a vicious circle, one man steals another’s pride. A single nation or ruler endeavours to control everything, while the poor plod along as they always did. I thought of the whole map of time and all that has gone horribly wrong with the world and humanity. Around and around we go. When will it end? It’s intangible compassion. It alludes so many.

So what took these Burkinabe from their booming days back to their looming days?

The fall of Faso Fani was sudden, ending – as one of Zongos interviewees says – “Just as they got started”. This sudden failure is linked to the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, who made loans to the Burkinabe government in the 1990s. The state could no longer own factories, and with privatization Faso Fani became open to foreign investment subject to international finance. When Zongo shows his interviewees archival footage of former Burkina Faso President, Thomas Sankara on his phone, we see that Faso Fani was a mass producer of cloth for Burkina Faso and its neighbouring countries. “Not one stich is from America or Europe”, Sankara says of his apparel. This once independent market seems to have fallen (like so many others) with foreign ‘aid.’ Zongo’s challenge to Burkinabe is to start again independently and redeem their industry.

How silently the Siren of Faso Fani sounds in this hopeful documentary. It says, ‘Wake up the future and mend the past… With a single thread is where you will start.’

 

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.

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