By Blaise Eyong and Josiane Kouagheu
BUEA, Cameroon (Reuters) - Filmmakers and actors gathered in the western Cameroon town of Buea for a film festival this week, as the region tries to regain a measure of normalcy despite an ongoing secessionist conflict.
The Cameroon International Film Festival was cancelled in 2019 and 2020 because of the conflict between state forces and English-speaking rebels, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
The festival has returned this year and features two Cameroonian films that have been bought by U.S. streaming service Netflix. One is the 2020 drama Fisherman's Diary about a young Cameroonian girl determined to go to school, which was inspired by the story of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
"I am so excited. This is something that has been a long time coming," said actress Ndamo Damarise, who plays a teacher in Fisherman's Diary, as she posed on the red carpet. "We have our movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime and all the big platforms."
Cameroon's two western Anglophone regions have been gripped by fighting since 2017 as the rebels try to break away from the predominantly Francophone government. More than 3,500 people have died and 700,000 have been displaced in the violence.
A fragile calm has reigned in Buea during the festival, which runs from Monday to Saturday. The 400-seat cinema where the films were screened was filled to capacity on opening night. Hardly anyone came in 2018 for fear of violence.
"We asked separatists in the bush not to disturb us. We explained to them that we are not politicians, we are filmmakers," said Billy Bob Ndive Lifongo, vice president of the festival.
Most films made in Cameroon are made in the Anglophone regions, which is also known as the country's tech and start-up hub.
Some filmmakers have been jailed during the conflict because of their opinions, said cinematographer Rene Etta, who worked on Fisherman's Diary and Therapy, the other film bought by Netflix.
He hopes the movies' success will help develop the local industry.
"We can now comfortably tell our children, 'If you like cinematography, you want to make films, go ahead and do it,' because there is a future. There is a possibility you can make a living out of it."
(Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aurora Ellis)