Photo by Arjeta Palevic

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu is the first Oscar-nominated film from Mauritania, and the director is the first from Africa to be featured in the Film Society’s weekly podcast series, The Close-Up. The film, which had its U.S. Premiere at the New York Film Festival last fall, also had a perilous journey to the big screen. 

Set in a town not far from the Malian city of Timbuktu and under the rule of Islamic fundamentalists, the story follows various inhabitants, including Kidane, who lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife, Satima, daughter, Toya, and their young shepherd, Issan. In town, the people suffer, powerless from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists. Music, laughter, cigarettes, and even soccer have been banned. Women live in the shadows, but resist with dignity. Timbuktu is a story that is seen through the nuance and vagaries of everyday life of a village.

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Before shooting was set to begin in neighboring Mali, a suicide bombing took place nearby, so production moved to the North African country of Mauritania. Although cast and crew changed locales, they were still working under intense pressure and threats. The army served as their protectors during Timbuktu‘s six-week shoot.

At one of the Film Society’s ongoing Free Talks series, sponsored by HBO, Sissako talked about the making of Timbuktu and the particular story that inspired him to co-write the screenplay for the film, which is a candidate for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards. The director, who is based in France, spoke in French, with an interpreter translating his responses to the crowd at the Amphitheater.