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TIFF puts Nouchi dialect in the spotlight

Burn It Up Djassa (2012)

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You aren't on the cusp of current world-cinema trends unless you know about Nouchi.

The dialect, a mashup of French and regional West African languages, started among kids and the marginalized in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan. It has become entrenched, and can even be heard among a new wave of films from the region. Burn It Up Djassa uses the dialect throughout, particularly in a monologue by a youth spinning a tale of ghetto bravado for the camera.

What's remarkable is that the new language is helping to spur a new cinema, with West African filmmakers looking less to Europe for financing and trying less to please international audiences. This is especially the case in the Ivory Coast.

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"Cinema is very new in Ivory Coast. There aren't a lot of directors, and there is no cinema industry. So this film is like a reaction to see what kind of film we can produce here to catch a young audience in the Ivory Coast," says Burn It Up Djassa producer Philippe Lacôte. Nigeria's film industry is also a model, but it could be that a film like Burn It Up Djassa may get just as much exposure from travelling projectionists-for-hire as from DVD stands in local markets.

The film is very much geared toward local audiences. It tells a story of a tough young man earning a tough reputation in the vibrant and dangerous Abidjan neighbourhood of Wassakara. The collective of actors and filmmakers behind the project tried to keep the storyline as realistic as possible. All the crew and actors are from the neighbourhood.

"The authorities in Abidjan don't know how the people in the ghetto are living, and we wanted to show this reality," said star Abdoul Karim Konaté.

The film uses both the tradition of storytelling and rap-like poetry, and really exemplifies a new kind of cinema in the region, notes TIFF programmer Rasha Salti. "They want to rehabilitate the image of the neighbourhood. They want to say, We look like thugs, but we are poets – which is beautiful."

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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