The King’s Necklace received the award for best supporting actor for Yonas Pérou’s performance, as well as a special mention from the jury because of its commitment to protecting the environment. Jean-Claude Mpaka, one of the film’s principal actors, spoke to New African on behalf of the director, Henry-Joseph Koumba Bididi.
New African: How did you react after receiving the award?
Jean-Claude Mpaka: First, we have to set the scene. Our film took five years of preparation and three and a half months of filming in France and Gabon. It is an honour to have received this prize as a reward for all our efforts, and it enormously encouraging. Even if the opinion of a jury is always subjective… what factors influence their choices, in a given place and at a given time? In Khouribga, as well as in Cameroon, they criticised the film for having the advantage of a large budget, for having ‘cost money’.
Let’s stop being so pessimistic! An award given at a festival is an act of encouragement. We can then ask ourselves whether or not we should reward someone who already has the means to produce a film, and how that person should be encouraged. There’s a whole debate there…
We should judge the result of a film, not the conditions in which it was made. Money should not be a factor in its judgement; only the quality of the artistic work matters. Money is not what makes a film good or bad. Not having money is not a reason to bear a grudge against those that do. The State did not finance our film; it was an independent producer, Jeff Bongo Ondimba [son of Omar Bongo, late former president of Gabon].
Q:What do you think of the FCAK? Is it helping to improving the African film industry?
A: The aim of this festival is to encourage communication, regardless of the awards given. What is meaningful here are the encounters that take place, between festival-goers from different countries and with the residents of Khouribga. This allows us to exchange and to open ourselves up to the richness of diversity. On a professional level, it’s important to show our work and to see what others have done. The diverse and informed opinions of industry professionals can help improve our film industry.
Q: How would you sum up the situation of the film industry in Africa?
A: The African film industry is still taking its first steps. Hollywood, which has been around for a long time, went through the exact same phases. There will only really be an African film industry when films are being made with a screenplay written by Africans, with African funding, produced by Africans, etc. Currently, the investors, who are foreign, believe that they have the right to an opinion on the screenplays, and sometimes they mould them to their liking. That means that we are still under the yoke of colonisation. They force us to show things in a certain way. As long as African cinema is produced by northern countries that want to prevent us from competing with them, or perhaps surpassing them, it will remain a neo-colonial product.
We need to free ourselves from all that by encouraging local film. The King’s Necklace did not receive anything from the cooperative. The producer financed it entirely with his own funds. And from beginning to end, from writing to postproduction, filming preparations to choice of technicians, the film is 100% Gabonese.
Q: What do you think should be done in order to get away from the pessimism and opposition to change and to develop the art of filmmaking?
A: We need to find our own means of financing, whether they are private or come from the State. We need to go out and look for them. We also fall short due to laziness and convenience. We need to make films for the greater public as well, not just for festivals. To do that, we need to extend the channels of distribution. After all, film is an industry, as well as an art. When we make a film, admittedly, we spend money, but we also do it in order to make money, to make a return on the investment and to make a profit, then to reinvest that money.
The problem is that there are practically no cinemas in Africa and therefore, no audience… But let’s stop talking about our film industry in such limiting terms; we don’t just make films for Africa, we make films for the whole world!