Overall African Diaspora participation at the annual Cannes Film Festival, the world’s most *prestigious*, is usually quite low, as I noted in my predictions piece; So, despite my list of 10+ potentials, I’m sadly never expecting to find more than 2 or 3 Diaspora titles (shorts and features) in the festival’s full lineup – in competition, out of competition, etc – which only reemphasizes the very necessary role that black film festivals around the globe, play. The majority of the films we cover on this blog would likely never participate on the film festival circuit, if it weren’t for black film festivals. Granted, only a few would be able to compete on the grandest cinema stage of all, but even those titles often are overlooked, if only in favor of the familiar.
This year’s lineup for the 67th edition of the festival, which kicks off tomorrow, from May 14-24, that trend looks to continue.
Of most interest to this blog (given its stated mission) is Mauritanian-born, Mali-raised filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, whose latest feature, Timbuktu, was selected to screen In Competition at this year’s event.
His 5th solo directorial effort, Sissako’s Timbuktu was inspired by the real-life story of the 2012 stoning of a young unmarried couple, by Islamists, in a Northern Mali town called Aguelhok. Their crime? They weren’t officially married, and thus, in the eyes of their executioners, were committing a crime against divine law. That summer, the couple was brought to the center of the town, placed in holes in the ground, and stoned to death in front of hundreds of watchers – a horribly tragic incident that drew international media attention, and motivated at least one filmmaker to address on film.
“Aguelhok is neither Damascus nor Teheran,” Sissako said in a pre-production statement over a year ago, adding that, “and in no way am I looking to over-emotionalize these events for the purposes of a moving film. What I do want to do is bear witness as a filmmaker. Because I will never be able to say I didn’t know. And because of what I know now, I must tell this story – in the hope that no child may ever have to learn this same lesson in the future. That their parents could die, simply because they love each other.“
The film stars Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri and Fatoumata Diawara.
Sissako is certainly no stranger to Cannes. Along with the late Ousmane Sembène, Souleymane Cissé, Idrissa Ouedraogo and Djibril Diop Mambety, he’s one of a few filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy real and rooted international reach. His 2002 film, Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono), was screened at the Cannes Film Festival that year, as an official selection in the Un Certain Regard program, and went on to win the FIPRESCI Prize. His 2007 film Bamako, also received much international attention, including a César Award nomination (France’s equivalent of the Academy Award) for its star Aïssa Maïga, as well as a Lumiere Award for Best French-Language Film, which it won.
Ahead of the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival this week, watch a clip from Timbuktu below (thanks to our friends at Africa Is A Country for the link):