A not-to-be-missed event in the Zimbabwean calendar is the annual Festival de la Francophonie, celebrated worldwide from Bulawayo to Brussels, from Malabo to Florida and from Haiti to Harare. From 18 – 25 March, all roads led to 328 Herbert Chitepo Avenue, where M Franck Chabasseur, director of the Alliance Française, welcomed film buffs and music lovers to a festival of French comedy films, concluding with a musical concert featuring bands from Madagascar, Switzerland and South Africa.
Belgian chocolates and French champagne set the tone for the opening film, La Vache, that was screened at Ster Kinekor in Sam Levy’s Village. A touching comedy about an Algerian farmer who is invited to exhibit his cow, Jacqueline, at the International Agricultural Show in Paris, a capacity audience gave it a standing ovation. French language comedies (with sub-titles for learners) from the Czech Republic, Canada, DR Congo, Switzerland and Belgium, played every evening the following week at the Alliance.
French being the fifth most spoken language in the world, spreading the French language is a priority for the Alliance Française. A regular event in the Francophone festival is La Dictée, a French dictation competition open to adults and children with a knowledge of French. This year, it took place on a sultry afternoon at the French School in Vainona, where head mistress Mme Yasmina Khellaf, newly-arrived from her previous post in St Malo, enthusiastically welcomed participants to the contest. Pupils from the Dominican Convent, Arundel, Gateway, Tynwald, St George’s, St John’s and the French School, joined a handful of courageous adult contestants, who had probably not sat at a school desk for thirty years or more. Exciting prizes for winners in the various groups included books, French dictionaries, a set of crystal glasses, vouchers for meals at various restaurants and a visit to Café de Paris, the go to place for French patisserie on Churchill Avenue.
Chabasseur said that sponsorship for various events had been difficult to source, owing to economic constraints in the country, resulting in the last-minute cancellation of the popular Sing Your Way to Paris competition. Power cuts and lightning strikes caused occasional concern, but Chabasseur, an experienced administrator and academic, said he was always ‘able to make a plan’. In spite of limited resources, Francophonie Week was a great success, sharing French culture and providing entertainment in a most stylish way, to appreciative Zimbabwean audiences.
The music of SA Roy and Forest Jam – a Madagascar-Swiss collaboration closed down the festival to under a cool evening sky to a rapturous crowd. We wait with anticipation for next year’s event.