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Up Next for Abderrahmane Sissako: A Leo Africanus Biopic or a Film on Africa–China Relations

Up Next for Abderrahmane Sissako: A Leo Africanus Biopic or a Film on Africa–China Relations

His critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning “Timbuktu” now out in release around the world, Mauritanian filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, is, naturally, thinking about what his next film will be. And, according to Screen magazine, who spoke to the filmmaker during the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra event this week (an initiative that provides mentorship, nurturing, and hands-on development for filmmakers from around the world), Sissako is considering 2 ideas: first, an adaptation of Lebanese author Amin Maalouf’s “Leo the African,” a historical novel based on the real-life of Hasan al-Wazzan, also known as Leo Africanus, a 15th century Moorish explorer, diplomat and author, best known for his book “Descrittione dell’Africa” (“Description of Africa”), which lays out the geography of North Africa; and second, a film that tackles the much-discussed/analyzed/debated and, I’d say, still evolving relationship between continental Africa and China. The filmmaker didn’t provide details beyond that broad description.

He has yet to settle on either idea, although a decision on which project to take on next will be made by the end of this year, he added.

“Timbuktu is still travelling, it’s still alive but it’s going to calm down, in six months or so things should be clearer,” he said. “I have my rhythm.”

Indeed. It has been quite a year for the filmmaker, whose “Timbuktu” cleaned up at the Cesar Awards last month (the French equivalent of the Oscars), winning 7 of the 8 categories in which it was nominated, including key categories like Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It was also a big winner at the 20th annual Lumières awards (the French equivalent of the Golden Globes), taking home trophies in the Best Film and Best Director categories.

The film was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category. 

All of the above were “firsts” for Sissako.

For those in the USA, Cohen Media Group released the anti-Jihadist film (which caused a bit of a stir at FESPACO last week) theatrically earlier this year, starting in late January, and it will likely make its way to home video platforms shortly for the many of you who didn’t get to screen it during its theatrical run, since it was a very limited run.

Leo Africanus was born in Granada, in 1485, and died around 1554, in Tunisia – a traveler whose writings were Europe’s principal sources of information about Islam, for centuries. Educated in Morocco, he was an avid traveler, typically on commercial and diplomatic missions through North Africa. During one of his trips through the Mediterranean, he was captured by Christian pirates and, because he showed extraordinary intelligence, he was presented as a gift to Pope Leo X, as a slave, who was impressed with his smarts, and would later free him, having persuaded him to profess Christianity, and had him baptized. His name was changed to Giovanni Leone, after converting, and he enjoyed favor in scholarly Roman society, learned Latin and Italian, and taught Arabic. Around 1526 he completed his greatest work, “Descrittione dell’Africa” (a geographical breakdown of Africa). He eventually returned to North Africa, where he is believed to have died a Muslim.

There is very little actually known about his life, and author Amin Maalouf’s book, which Sissako wants to adapt, fills in historical episodes, placing Leo in the company of many of the key historical figures of his time, including three popes, (Leo X, Adrian VI, and Pope Clement VII), two Ottoman emperors (Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent), with appearances by Boabdil (the last Moorish king of Granada), Askia Mohammad I of the Songhai Empire, Ferdinand of Spain, and Francis I of France, as well as the artist Raphael and other key political and cultural figures of the period. 

It was the author’s first novel, published in 1986 to much critical acclaim. You can pick up a copy here.

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