Cinema of Mali

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 22, 2008 08:36pm | Post a Comment
Backrground of Mali


            750 - 1076                                   1230 - 1600                                              1340 - 1591

Historically Mali was part of three Sahelian Kingdoms. The Soninke-dominated Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (which established Timbuktu and Djenne as major cities) and the Songhai Empire. These kingdoms controlled Trans-Saharan trade of gold, salt and other precious comodities. It collapsed following an Imazighen (aka Berber) invasion. When the European nations established sea routes for trade, the Trans-Saharan trade economy collapsed. To make things worse, the region grew increasingly desertified. France invaded the weakened nation and occupied Mali from the early 1800s until independence in 1959. Today, Mali is economically one of the poorest countries in the world.

Malians outside a cinema

Culturally, however, it's quite rich. Like its West African neighbors, it's also highly diverse. Most of its people are Bamana. There are also large populations of Soninke, Khassonke and Malink are all Mandé. There are smaller numbers of Peul, Voltaic, Songhai, Taureg, Bozo, Dogon, and Moor.  Altogether, more than 40 languages are spoken. 

                                Tellem (Mali)                                                                 Hohokam (Arizona)

The famed Dogon people based their calendar on Sirius B, a star not visible to the human eye. Their awareness of Jupiter and Saturn's rings preceded the invention of the telescope. They also lived in cliff dwellings, not unlike the aboriginals of America's southwest. What would Erich Anton Paul von Däniken  say?

Cinema of Mali

Mali's cinema is comparitively less known than the world famous movies of its neighbors, Senegal and Burkina Faso. But it's not for want of excellent films. Almost all of its key filmmakers were born in Bamako, the capital and largest city. After over a century of exploitation at the hands of the French, Mali initially cozied up to the USSR. Many of Mali's directors honed their craft at the world's oldest film school, the ?????????? ??????????????? ???????? ?????????????? (also known as VGIK, the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography) in Moscow. The school is the alma mater of Tarkovsky, Iosseliani, Eisenstein, Parajanov, Bondarchuk and Sokurov. The faculty included Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovzchenko and other noteworthy figures. Many Malian films incorporate Soviet-developed visual techniques to make films that are sometimes nearly wordless pieces of visual poetry which can overcome illiteracy and Mali's over 40 spoken languages.

Malian Directors

Souleymane Cissé with Fatih Akin and Marty Scorsese

Souleymane Cissé was born in 1940 in Bamako. He developed a passion for films as a child. He moved to Senegal for secondary school and returned to Mali in 1960 following independence. His work in film began as an assistant projectionist on a documentary dealing with the arrest of Patrice Lumumba. He moved to Moscow to attend the School of Cinema and Television.

He returned to Mali in 1970 and joined the Ministry of Information as a cameraman, producing documentaries and shorts. Two years later, his debut feautre Cinq jours d'une vie was released. It focused on a student who drops out of a Qur'anic school and makes a living as a thief. It premiered in Tunisia at the Carthage Film Festival. In 1974 he release Den muso, filmed in Bamana and focusing on a young, mute, and pregnant rape victim who's rejected by both her family and the rapist. The controversial subject matter led to Cissé's arrest on the grounds that he'd accepted French funding. In 1979, he made Baara which earned a prize at the prestigious FESPACO the following year. In 1982 he made Finyé, telling the story of an anti-authoritarian teenager. It also won a Tenegna's Talon at FESPACO. In 1983 he sat on the jury at Cannes. Beginning in 1984 and finishing work in 1987, he worked on Yeelen, an amazing, sprawling, fantastical, epic coming-of-age story which won a jury prize at Cannes. In 1995 he produced Waati. The following year he served on the jury at Venice. Cissé is currently the president of the Union of Creators and Entrepreneurs of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts of Western Africa.

Still from Yeelen's Tarkovskyan shower scene

L’homme et ses idoles (1975), L’aspirant (1968), Source d’inspiration (1968), Dégal à Dialloubé (1970), Fête du Sanké (1971), Cinq jours d’une vie (1972), Den muso (1975), Baara (1978), Chanteurs traditionnels des Iles Seychelles (1978), Finye (1982), Yeelen (1987), Waati (1995)

Cheick Oumar Sissoko
was born in 1945 in San.
He went to school in Paris and received a DEA in African History and Sociology as well as a diploma in History and Cinema at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales. He then continued his studies at the Ecole national Louis Lumiere. 

When he returned to Mali, he became the director at the Centre National de la Production Cinématographique where he made Sécheresse et exode rural. In 1995 he made Guimba which won a jury prize at Locarno and won a Yennenga's Talon played at FESPACO. In 1999, he released Le Genese, a film re-locating the Book of Genesis to ancient Mali. It also won the same award at FESPACO. In 2000 he directed Battu which won the RFI Prize for Cinema at FESPACO. 

He co-created the Kora Film production company. Along with Oumar Mariko, he founded the African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI) party, of which he is the president. He served as the Minister of Culture from 2004 to 2007.

A still from Guimba

L'ecole malienne (1982), Les audiothèques rurales (1983), Sécheresse et exode rural (1984), Nyamanton (1986), Finzan (1990), Etre jeune à Bamako (1992), L'Afrique bouge (1992), Problématique de la malnutrition (1993), Guimba, un tyrant, une époque (1995), La Genèse (1999), Battù (2000), Scenarios from the Sahel (2001)

Adama Drabo
                  Adama Drabo                                                           Shot from Taafe Fanga

Adama Drabo was born in 1948 in Bamako. As a child he was keenly interested in film but opted to teach following Mali's independence. For ten years he made a living as a schoolteacher, painting and writing plays on the side. His plays include 1972's Massa, Le tresor de l'Askia (1977). In 1979 he joined the Centre national de production cinematographique. He wrote two more plays, 1982's L'eau de Dieu tombera and the following year, Pouvoir de Pagne.

He worked as an assistant director for Cheick Oumar Sissoko for the 1986 film Nyamanton and the 1989 film Finzan. In the meantime, he made his own debut with Nieba, la journee d'une paysanne in 1988. His debut feature followed in 1991 with Ta Dona which played at Fespaco, Cannes and the Locarno Internation Film Festival. 1997's Taafe Fanga was about a Dogon woman who used a magical mask to reverse the genders of her village's inhabitants. It played at Cannes, Tokoy, Namur and FESPACO.


Nieba, la journée d'une paysanne (1988), Ta Dona (1991), Taafé Fanga (1997)

Abderrahmane Sissako and Maria de Medeiros at Cannes

Abderrahmane Sissako was born in 1961 in Mauritania but moved to Mali as a child. He studied film in  Moscow from 1983 to 1989 at the VGIK. 1998's almost wordless La vie sur terre is an understated but hilarious comedy about the irrelevance of the Y2K scare to a group of Malians.

In 2003, he served on the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival and on the jury at Cannes in 2007. He's currently the jury president for the entrance exams of La Fémis --France's national film school.

A shot from La vie sur terre

Oktyabr (1993), Rostov-Luanda (1998), La vie sur terre (1998), Heremakono (2002), Bamako (2006), Tiya's Dream (2008)

Abdoulaye Ascofaré  was born in 1949 in Gao. He worked on the radio until 1978 when he left to teach at the Institut National des Arts in Bamako. Afterward, he went to the USSR to study film where he graduated in 1984 with a diploma in film studies from the Moscow State Institute of Cinematography. The following year he joined the Centre National de Production Cinematographique en Bamako. In 1991 he began making his own films. His feature debut was 1997's Faraw, une mere des sables, which won the Golden Bayar for Artistic Creation at that year's Namur Film Festival. He's also published poetry titled Domestiquer le reve.

a shot from Faraw

Welcome (1981), M'sieur Fane (1983), L'Hote (1984), Sonatam, un quart de siecle (1990), Fara, une mere des sables (1997)


Assane Kouyaté was born in 1954 in Bamako. He received an arts degree from the Ecole Normale Superieure de Bamako in 1976. Afterward, he moved to the Soviet Union to attend Moscow's Institute of Cinema and Television where he earned a diploma in Cinema Studies in 1989. One year earlier he collaborated with Sergei Salaviov, assisting him on Pigeon. He also collaborated with Argentine director Pablo Cesar on 1998's Aphrodite.

In 2002 he made his only feature thus far, Kabala. The film won both the best screenplay and Special Jury Prize at FESPACO in Ouagadougou.


Falaba Issa Traoré was born in 1930 in Bougouni. He was the director of an amateur theater group in Bamako between 1962 and 1968. He then created and directed the Yankadi theater group which he ran from 1969 to 1973. In 1972 he won the Prix Afrique de Poesie de la Francophonie. That year he moved to Germany to study film direction. He authored two operas, Soundiata ou l'epopee mandingue and Dah Monzon ou l'epopee Bambara.

He returned to Mali three years later where he took on the role as director of the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture. He appeared in comedic roles in Kalifa Dienta's A Banna, Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Nidiougou Giubma, and Boubacar Sidbe's Le pace social, Sanoudie and N'Tronkele.

He debuted as a film director in 1979 with Juguifolo. His final film was 1990's Bamunan. He died in Morocco in 2003.

Juguifolo (1979), Anbe no don (1980), Kiri Kara Watita (1980), Bamunan (1990)

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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