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Show must go on for ‘Timbuktu’ at African film festival

Le Pacte
3 min

Acclaimed film "Timbuktu” will be included at Africa’s leading film festival opening this weekend in Burkina Faso after the government on Friday denied reports that the film would be withdrawn due to security concerns.

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The 2015 Oscar foreign film nominee and winner of France’s prestigious César best film award, "Timbuktu” chronicles life in the famed northern Malian city under jihadist control.

In the lead-up to Saturday’s opening of the Pan-African Cinema and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in the Burkinabe capital, there were reports the Franco-Mauritanian film would be withdrawn from the festival due to security concerns.

But Burkinabe Culture Minister Jean-Claude Dioma said the film would be included in the FESPACO 2015 lineup.

"The government of Burkina Faso has decided to screen “Timbuktu,” but enhanced security measures will be taken," said Dioma at a press conference in Ouagadougou, adding that the authorities had to first evaluate the security implications before deciding to go ahead with the screening.

There have been no specific threats detected in Burkina Faso over the screening of the film, reported AFP, citing several diplomatic sources.

Paris suburb scraps screening

This is not the first time the screening of the epic film by acclaimed Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako has sparked security fears.

Shortly after the deadly January 7-9 Paris attacks, the mayor of Villiers-sur-Marne, a suburb east of Paris, decided to stop the film’s screening in the town’s municipal cinema for safety reasons. Villiers-sur-Marne is the birthplace of Hayat Boumeddiene, fugitive wife of one of the Paris gunmen, also known as “France’s most wanted woman”.

Amid heightened security alerts following the Paris attacks, Villiers-sur-Marne mayor Jacques-Alain Bénisti, from the centre-right UMP party, expressed concern that "Timbuktu" would be misinterpreted by young people.

Critics however blasted the decision, noting that the film, which plays out in Timbuktu during its 2012 jihadist occupation, is a sensitive portrayal of a society’s quiet refusal to bow down to a hardline interpretation of Islam at odds with the tolerant, syncretic form practiced in an ancient city famed for its Islamic scholarship. While the film exposes the intolerance of the jihadists, it also portrays them as a motley mix of hopelessly inept young men hailing from countries across the region and incapable of administering a city.

“Timbuktu” was the star of the 2015 César awards in Paris, where it was nominated for awards in eight categories and swept up seven.

Accepting the best director prize, Sissako thanked his native Mauritania, where “Timbuktu” was filmed and his foreign crew was “protected”.

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