Released today from the desk of Burkina Faso’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, Jean-Claude Dioma: “The government of Burkina Faso has decided to screen the film ‘Timbuktu.’ The Government of Burkina Faso and the FESPACO Organizing Committee would like to reassure the filmmakers, festival press and film fans that ‘Timbuktu’ will screen in competition for the Étalon de Yennenga like the other films selected. The Burkinabe government reassures all festival attendees that security arrangements are already in place to ensure the success of FESPACO 2015.”
The Étalon de Yennenga is the top film prize at the festival, akin to the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
This statement comes a couple of days after the festival announced that it actually would not screen the film in competition due to what it said were “security concerns” in consideration of “the current environment in West Africa.” We can assume they are referring to the escalating battle against Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which has inflicted years of terror on northern Nigeria, in an attempt to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south. It’s a war that surrounding countries are invested in, as heads of state in Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger are uniting regionally to tackle the group – one that is now reportedly wooing ISIS.
Sissako, whose “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 (a horribly tragic incident that drew international media attention, and motivated the filmmaker to address on film) of course disagreed with FESPACO’s decision to not show the film – a vibrant fictional protest against religious fundamentalism.
It was also reported that there might be a re-consideration of the initial decision, which has now happened.
For those in the USA, while not exactly similar circumstances, this recalls Sony’s decision not to show “The Interview” in theaters, in response to threats of deadly violence by alleged North Korean hackers. Sony did eventually open the film, albeit in far fewer theaters than initially planned. It also released the film on various home video platforms.
“I would never want to make a film that somebody else could make, and I want to see films that I would never make. What’s important to me is the cinema of anonymity – addressing the conflicts but above all the suffering endured by anonymous people – empowering them and making them visible, testifying to their courage and their beauty,” Sissako has said about what inspires his work, evident in “Timbuktu.”
The film was also feted by both the Lumières awards – essentially the French equivalent of the Golden Globes (Best Film of the Year and Best Director); and by the César Awards – the French equivalent of the Oscars, picking up an astounding 7 wins: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Design, Best Original Music.
For those in the USA, you should know that Cohen Media Group released the film theatrically, starting late last month, on January 28. Check your local listings to find out if it’s playing at a theater near you currently.
Kicking off its 2015 edition in 1 day (February 28, 2015), the 24th Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), in Burkina Faso, West Africa occurs only once every two years – and will run through March 7, 2015, with “African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era” as this edition’s theme.
The festival’s lineup of “in competition” and “out of competition” films includes a total of 134 titles (shorts, features), representing several countries across the continent.