PSIFF15: Mauritania's "Timbuktu" opens in theaters January 30!

I saw "Timbuktu" at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and I consider it a gift from the filmmaker and one of the most important films ever made. I will feature the film in my extended coverage of the festival later but I would like to invite all my readers based in Los Angeles to mark their calendars beginning January 30, 2015 and watch this beautiful movie about the atrocities being committed by Islamic fundamentalists!

If you live elsewhere, I pray that the movie reaches your city so you would have the chance to watch this masterpiece on the big screen. The world needs to be aware of what's going on because I believe that is where change usually begins. Today, January 7, 2015, I woke up to a sobering news from France about the murder of several French journalists by men who use religion as cover for their thirst for violence, blood and anarchy, when, in fact, they are simply just ignorant. Let this movie be the catalyst to change all that.

Below is a touching statement from Abderrahmane Sissako, the acclaimed director behind "Timbuktu".

Director's Statement

I am a filmmaker from one of those far-off countries, countries that do not have the financial means to regularly release many films. Filmmakers who can go ten years without making a film. So when we do make one, it must have a meaning, a universal message, it must alert and concern all of humanity. I want to tell the stories that are not told or are not told enough. And then a triggering event occurs, one which creates the pretext, the dramatic spark.

For Timbuktu, it was the 2012 death by stoning in Aguelhok, a small town in Mali, of a man and a woman who had loved each and had children, and whose only crime was that they had never been married in the eyes of God.

Their execution was broadcast on the Internet. Yet this unnamable atrocity was greeted with total indifference by the media and the world.

We don’t know this couple’s name, but they have taken on symbolic importance. Everyone says it's a scandal, why don’t we talk about it? But no one knows what to do…  As an artist, a filmmaker, it is my role to convey this outraged collective awareness.

Particularly when it concerns what I know best, Africa, where countries often considered “underdeveloped” suffer, the victims of indifference.

The occupation of Timbuktu in 2012 lasted one year, a year in which an entire population was deprived of liberty and taken hostage. Ancient manuscripts, part of the world’s heritage, were destroyed.

I went to Timbuktu following its liberation by the French troops. I wanted to put my screenplay to the test, by meeting with people there. Among those I met were some girls who are modestly described as “forced brides”, young women who were raped. Exactly like the Nigerian high school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

A few weeks before we began shooting, a suicide bombing in front of the military garrison forced us to move our shoot location to Mauritania, specifically to Oualata, an old city, the twin of Timbuktu. Bringing a crew to Timbuktu would have been extremely risky, so I decided to move the shooting of certain scenes to Mauritania, while searching for other locations.

We shot for six tense weeks in a location that was in a danger zone. We were protected by the Mauritanian Army, with the strong participation of the Government. But, even though we were well-protected, we were not safe from suicide bombings.

The film, through the couple Kidane and Satima, insists on one essential point: that violence will never be able to kill love. You can kill a man, but you cannot kill the love he has for his daughter, his wife. This is fundamental, and is the key to victory over barbarity. It is how we defy extremism. They will not have the last word. Beauty and dignity will triumph.

When an African film, with such an intention, is in competition at a major festival, travels and connects with audiences the world over as is now happening with Timbuktu, all of Africa is standing behind it. I have received and continue to receive this support everywhere. It is, of course, an enormous responsibility and above all an honor to carry the hope not only of one country but of an entire continent.

The most important connection for a film is the one it has with the audience. And this film now belongs to them.

- Abderrahmane Sissako

(Note: "Timbuktu" will have a special screening sponsored by USC Cinematic Arts on January 22nd. Follow link for details on how to RSVP: )

Raymond Lo

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