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Abderrahmane Sissako, wearing a cap and glasses.
Film director Abderrahmane Sissako Image: Joel SagetAFP/Getty Images

Filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako honored

Philipp Jedicke
October 5, 2021

The director of "Timbuktu" is recognized with the Konrad Wolf Prize for his body of work, films which reflect on experiences in Mali, Mauritania or Moscow.


Abderrahmane Sissako, who was born in Kiffa in Mauritania in 1961, is considered one of the most important filmmakers on the African continent.

He grew up in Mali, and then went to study filmmaking in Moscow from 1983 to 1989 — incidentally, at the same institute where Konrad Wolf, whose name has been given to the prize awarded by Berlin's Academy of Arts (AdK).

In his short film October (1993), Sissako reflected on his experiences as a Black man in the Soviet Union.

He then moved to Paris in the 1990s, where he is still living.

His documentary Rostov-Luanda (1997) was shown at the Documenta art show.

Sissako's films are renowned for expanding reality through different narrative levels, creating new perspectives on current developments.

In his 1998 feature film, La Vie Sur Terre (Life on Earth), he shows how the change of millennium is not a concern for the inhabitants of a Mauritanian village.

With Bamako (2006), Sissako demonstrated his skills as a director "who knows how to combine the political with the poetic," according to the jury of the AdK. The documentary film follows a fictional court case on the African continent against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

His biggest international success to date came in 2014 with the film Timbuktu, a drama in which parts of Mali are occupied by radical jihadists who introduce inhumane regulations and punishments such as stoning.

The film was nominated in the competition for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and for an Oscar abroad.

According to the AdK press statement, Timbuktu is "terrifyingly topical given the current situation in Afghanistan."

Sissako's films have been regularly selected to compete in international film festivals.

In 2003 he served as a member of the Berlinale jury and was also on Cannes' jury in 2007.

This year's jury of the Konrad Wolf Prize said that they were awarding the honor to "one of the most important filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa," whose films celebrate "the silver screen as a powerful place from which humanitarian and educational impulses emanate."

Sissako has remained "a pioneer who knows how to reinvent himself as a director with every film," the jury added.

Since 1986, the AdK in Berlin has been awarding the Konrad Wolf Prize, endowed with €5,000 ($5,800), for outstanding artistic achievements in the fields of film, media and performance arts.

Past winners include Ken Loach, Volker Schlöndorff, Agnes Varda and Christoph Schlingensief.

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