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Buni TV Releases Banned Cameroonian Film

Jean Pierre Bekolo

Jean Pierre Bekolo

The story of renowned Cameroonian director Jean-Pierre Bekolo's 'The President: "How Do You Know It's Time to Go?' revolves around the disappearance, just a few days before the elections, of the film's fictional president. That the film clearly refers to the country's real-life leader Paul Biya, in power for more than 30 years, didn't please the Cameroonian government, which swiftly banned the film from being screened in the country.

For Bekolo, who recently returned to Cameroon after years teaching film in American universities, it was crucial that Cameroonians from both within and outside the country have access to his film — so he turned to leading African video-on-demand platform Buni TV ( www.buni.tv ).

"Today, new technologies provide a solution for filmmakers in countries that still impose censorship on cinema and where freedom of speech is still threatened" said Bekolo. "Online distribution will make The President widely available, and hopefully this will lead to real dialogue on the issues the film raises."

Buni TV already has experience with politically sensitive content. The video platform is a service of Buni Media, the production company behind The XYZ Show, Kenya's hit political satire show with an audience of 10 million, which recently won the Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Award for Best TV Series.

"One of the great advantages of the internet is that it can circumvent censorship," said Buni TV CEO Marie Lora-Mungai. "Buni TV wants to play a role in fostering and supporting the free flow of ideas in Africa. When we learned that Jean-Pierre was not able to screen The President in Cameroon, we felt it was our responsibility to help this important film reach its audience."

Bekolo has distinguished himself as one of Africa's boldest and most unconventional filmmakers, producing genre-busting material such as his 2005 film Les Saignantes, a sci-fi political satire about two high-class vampire prostitutes using their sexuality to expose – and kill – corrupt politicians.

With The President, which premiered at the Durban International Film Festival in July, Bekolo touches on one of Africa's remaining political taboos: what does the failing health of the continent's few remaining dictators-for-life mean for their country?

Besides Biya, who reportedly spends more than half the year outside Cameroon, other African presidents regularly missing in action include Zambia's Michael Sata, who is rumoured to be in India or London for treatment, and Angola's Eduardo dos Santos, who simply cannot be located at all.

Last year, Ethiopia's premier Meles Zenawi died of an undisclosed illness in a hospital in Brussels, after disappearing from the public eye for two months. In 2010, Nigeria found itself in political limbo after President Umaru Yar'Adua's death. Ghana's John Atta Mills passed away from cancer despite his party's numerous denials that he was even sick.

In April last year, the death of Malawi's Bingu wa Mutharika was hidden from the public by those in the government trying to block current leader Joyce Banda from taking power. And then there is Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who at 89 years old makes frequent trips to Singapore for "normal eye check-ups" and refuses to discuss his health.

The President will be available for free at www.buni.tv for a week starting October 12, and later re-released under the platform's upcoming subscription service. Viewers from across Africa and the world will be able to stream the film from their computers or internet-enabled smartphones or tablets.

The Star Newspaper – Kenya