Timbuktu: Fighting jihadists in the dunes

A film about the takeover of northern Mali in 2012 has won praise at Cannes. Tom Brook finds out what it means for African rebels.

“The unfortunate events in Nigeria now will give a greater impact to what the film shows all across the sub-Saharan countries and around the world.” The actor Toulou Kiki stars in a movie that has won praise at Cannes for its empathetic portrayal of the struggle in Mali – and she believes it could have global resonance.

Timbuktu is set in the early days of the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012, and shows local women fighting back. It has been given deeper meaning after the kidnapping last month of more than 200 schoolgirls by an Islamist extremist group in Nigeria.

The film’s director, Abderrahmane Sissako (Bamako, Waiting for Happiness), grew up in Mali. He wanted Timbuktu to reveal more than the horror of the recent conflict. “I think it was Dostoevsky who said that it’s beauty that will save humanity, and that also is what this film is about,” he says.

“Despite the conflicts, despite the difficulties, despite what separates us, it’s up to all of us regardless of what we do or what we believe to … recognize that even the jihadists, even the fundamentalists, have within them a sense of humanity.”

It’s an approach that has garnered him the label of “one of the true humanists of recent cinema” from Variety, whose reviewer said: “In the hands of a master, indignation and tragedy can be rendered with clarity yet subtlety, setting hysteria aside for deeper, more richly shaded tones.”

Sissako talks to Tom Brook, who also interviews Timbuktu’s stars about what it means for those caught up in the ongoing struggle.

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