It’s not often you find documentary narrators comparing sugarcane field workers to shea butter melting in the sun. Bikontine had purchased a pen and a notebook, and his words were at once light and substantial—is he a poet?
Confirmation comes in what is perhaps the film’s most moving scene. It is nighttime in X, where Bikontine is playing fussball with Ahmed, a new acquaintance. Ahmed is a drop-out conscious of the lack of polish in his French. Bikontine admits he’s a poet; a poet keenly aware of Francophone tradition. They find, strangely, a comradeship in poetry. Before the scene ends, they stumble together through A Ma Mere, Camara Laye’s salute to his mother.
In 2014, Bikontine and hordes of discontented upright youth took to the barricades in Burkina Faso. Blaise Campaore, who in 1987 induced the murder of the charismatic Thomas Sankara, had attempted to lengthen his interminable reign, only to find an ignominious end. Chants of Une Seule Nuit, written in 1984 by Sankara, rent the air as Campaore sped away towards Coted’Ivoire. Sankara was long dead, but these were the 7 million Thomas Sankaras he once spoke of.
The so-called revolution was a false dawn. It is one thing to uproot a totem but quite another to unhinge a system.
New opportunities did not materialize. Broad sections of the country remained desperately poor, with no hope of salvage. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
The resulting disillusionment spread its legs and bore Sankara is not Dead.
Directed by first time director Lucie Viver, we meet Bikontine at a crossroads. To dislodge himself from the horns of an existential dilemma, he will follow a train trail from Lareba up to Kaya, a terminus with some significance for Sankara.
Trailed by Viver’s camera and guided by Sankara’s spirit, Bikontine conducts a remarkable Burkinabe reckoning. This voyage is deeply poetic and enriching. He reacquaints himself with his country—its history and its present—through the diverse cast of characters he encounters. He is them, and they he—travellers, in their own way, on quests to attain personal Burkinabe Dreams.
Put beside a novel such as Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief, Sankara is not Dead becomes even more remarkable. Both are African reckonings in their own way, but only one is imbued with the humility derived from being a part of something. Perhaps because Teju Cole’s controlling presence is helicoptered in, the eventual result is deeply offensive, marred by a Naipaulesque condescension.
Bikontine’s Burkinabeness is neither hyphenated nor unduly privileged—and it shows. And though both works of art come inevitably to largely the same conclusions about their subjects, only one truly illuminates the human condition. Viver’s is an impressive debut.
Sankara is not Dead is showing at the 2019 AFRIFF and is scheduled to screen on Wednesday, 13th November 2019.
Time: 4PM Screen: Filmhouse Landmark, Screen 4