It takes place in the two weeks following the last Saturday in February with the opening night held in the Stade du 4 Août, the national stadium. The main prize (palmares) is the Étalan de Yennenga which is awarded to the film that best shows "Africa's realities". For the competition only African films are allowed.
The festival was first held in 1969, it grew slowly but became regular with government support from 1972, government aid was especially strong during the reign of Thomas Sankara (1983-87) which did much to boost the festival's profile. The 2003 festival was the eighteenth.
Since 1983 the festival has included MICA (Le Marché International du Cinéma et de la Télévision Africains) a professional market for African film stock and video footage.
In 1989 FESPACO funded the construction of La Cinémathèque Africaine de Ouagadougou, a film library with specialized facilities to repair and store film.