Film society honors filmmaker Sissalo

by Haley Gordon | 4/20/15 6:02pm

The Dartmouth Film Society will present North African Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako with a Dartmouth Film Award today and, in tribute, screen a showing of his newest movie “Timbuktu” (2014). The film tells the story of a family whose lives are disrupted by the appearance of militant Islamists.

African and African American studies and comparative literature professor Ayo Coly will lead a post-film discussion with Sissako.

Sissako is the creator of films like Waiting for Happiness (2002) and Bamako (2006). His latest film, Timbuktu, won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Director of the Dartmouth Film Society Johanna Evans ’10 said that Coly was responsible for bringing Sissako to campus.

“We’ve played his other works before,” Evans said. “We were actually contacted about this film in particular by [Coly] in the AAAS department. When she contacted us and said that she knew a way to get Sissako here, we just couldn’t believe our luck.”

After other departments and centers at the College expressed interest, the tribute was expanded to include class visits and events attended by Sissako.

“Everyone was just so enthusiastic,” Evans said. “It made planning the visit much easier.”

Coly said she had the idea to ask Sissako to visit campus when she learned that he would be in United States for a three-week tour.

Hopkins Center publicity coordinator Rebecca Bailey said that Sissako was a particularly strong candidate for the tribute because of his distinct voice.

“We really love being able to present not just a film, but the artist who made it, especially when they’re an artist who is really having an impact on the art form and the way people see a very important topic in the world.” Bailey said.

Coly said she first came into contact with Sissako’s work in 2003, when “Waiting for Happiness” won the grand prize at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.

“This is the most important festival of African film in the world, so it’s really a huge deal to win a prize there.” Coly said.

Coly said that she followed Sissako’s work as he progressed, admiring his talent for creating visually dynamic films.

“For me, it’s his aesthetics,” she said. “It’s in terms of visually -— I would describe him as a visual poet. He has a way of shooting the landscape, he has a way of framing the bodies that he’s filming that is just captivating. His ability to find or show beauty in those moments, moments of despair and tragedy… I think it captivated me.”

Coly said Sissako’s films present a valuable alternative to the “dominant, western narrative of Africa.”

“I think it’s important that he’s able to show a more complex and more nuanced version of Africa,” Coly said.

Coly said that she felt that “Timbuktu” did not have a targeted audience, but rather could appeal to a more universal group of viewers.

“I think it’s a global approach, sharing this story with as many people as possible, because we are all concerned,” Coly said. “You don’t have to be in Mali or from Mali to be concerned by what is going on there, by the ways in which some Islamic groups are taking whole populations hostage. It really concerns us all… both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Coly said that besides presenting another image of Africa, Sissako presents another image of Islam that differs from the often-demonizing portrayal that many Western media organizations can project.

Bailey also said that the topics dealt with, such as religion, terrorism, oppression and the loss of independence, made the film more powerful.

“A film lets you know something through the human dimension,” she said. “It lets you see everyone in it as a human being and that kind of understanding helps you maybe make better decisions. It’s so important to have that dimension of understanding as well as the news, the facts, the figures.”

Coly said that despite the darker subject matter, the film has an element of optimism.

“The people really rise, really fight back,” Coly said. “There is a hope in the resistance of the people.”

She said that she thought students should see the film because it deals with timely and pressing issues.

Bailey said that in addition to seeing the film, students who go to the tribute will have the opportunity to meet local film buffs.

“They show up in great numbers to these events,” she said. “I think it’s interesting for students because they’re sitting right next to people who might be four decades older than them but are just as gripped by great film as they are.”

The tribute will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Loew Auditorium. Tickets will be between five and eight dollars for students.