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Abderrahmane Sissako’s African Worlds

Friday, April 22, 2022 at 7:00:00 PM UTC

A four-film series and lecture by Abderrahmane Sissako in conversation,holding the transformational poetics of humanitarian cinema.

April 22nd – 26th, 2022.


What is the place of West Africa in the world and of the world in West Africa? These are the questions that the Oscar- and Palme d’Or-nominated filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako asks insistently in films that address the impact of World Bank and IMF policies in Mali and beyond (Bamako, 2006), the confrontation between extremist and moderate Islam in the southern Sahara (Timbuktu, 2014), and exile in Europe and the difficulties of returning home (Life on Earth, 1999). In all of his films, Sissako brings a worldly sensibility to the representation of the most pressing concerns of the continent, but always with an eye for the beauty and tenderness in everyday life, no matter how difficult, and for the moral ambiguities and linguistic complexities that evade so many representations of West Africa.


Abderrahmane Sissako is the 2022 University of Washington Katz Distinguished Lecturer.

He will be joined in conversation on April 26th by Berette S Macaulay (founder of Seattle’s Black Cinema Collective) and Maya Smith (Dir. of African Studies at UW). This public conversation will be in English + French with Richard Watts as interpreter.




La Vie Sur Terre (Life on Earth), 1998 (trailer)

Set in the rural village of Sokolo on the eve of the 21st century, Dramane (Abderrahmane Sissako), a Malian who lives in Paris, returns to his family's African village to visit his father (Mohamed Sissako). Dramane realizes how different and stagnated his village is compared to the ever-changing modern world, especially at the dawn of a new millennium. While home, he strikes up a friendship with beautiful villager Nana (Nana Baby), with whom he contemplates the future.

(Sources:  Wikipedia & Rotten Tomatoes)

Mali / 61 minutes / Comedy Drama / Bambara and French with English subtitles

Screening in person at Henry Art Gallery Auditorium, April 22nd, 1:00 pm

Heremakono/Waiting for Happiness, 2002 (trailer)

Hassania Nouadhibou is a small coastal Mauritanian city that acts as a transit point to the West. Abdallah returns home on his way to Europe. Having forgotten how to speak in his mother’s tongue, he becomes a mute observer of village life and its minor intrigues. His mother and Khatra, an orphan boy apprenticed to an aging electrician, try to help him adapt, but to little avail. Abdallah, with his eyes fixed on the horizon, awaits the arrival of hypothetical happiness.

Source: African Film Festival NY

Mali and Mauritania / 95mins / Drama / French and Hassania with English subtitles

Screening in person at Henry Art Gallery Auditorium, April 23rd, 3:00pm

BAMAKO, 2006 (trailer)

An extraordinary trial is taking place in a residential courtyard in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. African citizens have taken proceedings against such international financial institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whom civil society blames for perpetuating Africa’s debt crisis, at the heart of so many of the continent’s woes. As numerous trial witnesses (schoolteachers, farmers, writers, etc.) air bracing indictments against the global economic machinery that haunts them, life in the courtyard presses forward. Melé, a lounge singer, and her unemployed husband Chaka are on the verge of breaking up; a security guard’s gun goes missing; a young man lies ill; a wedding procession passes through; and women keep everything rolling – dyeing fabric, minding children, spinning cotton, and speaking their minds.

Co-executive produced by Danny Glover (who also provides a cameo in the film). Director Sissako, who grew up in the courtyard that the film is set in, hired professional lawyers and judges along with “witnesses” to express their true feelings. Bamako voices Africa’s grievances in an original and profoundly moving way.

Stills courtesy of Icarus Films

Mali and France /117 mins / Political Drama /French, Bambara, English & Hebrew with English subtitles

Screening in person at Northwest Film Forum, April 24rd, 1:00 pm

TIMBUKTU, 2014 (trailer)

Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences.

Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants.

Timbuktu was featured in the Palme d’Or main competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, earned the 2015 Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and won seven 2015 Cesar Awards in France, including Best Director and Best Film.

Stills and synopsis courtesy of Cohen Media.

Mauritania, France and Qatar /97 mins / Drama / French, Arabic, Bambara, English, Songhay and Tamashek with English subtitles

Screening in person at Northwest Film Forum, April 24rd, 6:00 pm, followed by Q & A with Abderrahmane Sissako



Berette S Macaulay is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, and writer born in Sierra Leone, and raised in Jamaica.  Her work engages complex cultural negotiations of be/longing, trans*national personhood, coded identity-performance, memory, and mythmaking.  Exhibition and sharing spaces include Melkweg Expo (Netherlands), Art Alive (India), SP-Arte (Brazil), Memorial ACTe Museum (Guadeloupe), and Annenberg Space for Photography (USA).  Permanent collections include National Gallery of Jamaica and Int’l Center for Photography (as ‘SeBiArt’).  She received the UW Ottenberg-Winans Fellowship for African Studies (2019) for her ongoing research on Afro-gestural vocabularies Embodied Witness: Performing Memory for Black (re)Cognition, recently presented as a film essay and participatory engagement at the 2022 Black Portraitures VII Conference: Play & Performance at Rutgers University. Her work has been supported with artist grants and residencies from the National Performance Network (NPN), Vermont Studio Center, Jack Straw Cultural Center, Shunpike Arts, and 4Culture. Her curatorial projects include the permanent exhibition Mystic of a Woman on Rita Marley at the Bob Marley Museum, illusive self at Taller Boricua Gallery, NY, and MFON in Seattle (2019-2020), a five month-long series of exhibitions and talks she conceived and organized in partnership with MFON Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Frye Art Museum, and Photographic Center NW.  Berette is the Curatorial Fellow at On the Boards where her collaborative performance project ‘[UN- TITLED]’is in development, co-commissioned by BRIC Arts New York. She serves as professor/Art Liaison Program Manager at Henry Art Gallery and is the founder of Black Cinema Collective – a project of i•ma•gine e•volve.

Maya Smith completed her undergraduate and master’s degree at New York University in the joint MA/BA program with the Institute of French Studies. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in Romance Languages and Linguistics. Her scholarship broadly focuses on the intersection of racial and linguistic identity formations among marginalized groups in the African diaspora, particularly in the postcolonial francophone world. Her book, Senegal Abroad: Linguistic Borders, Racial Formations, and Diasporic Imaginaries, was published with the University of Wisconsin Press in January 2019. Through a critical examination of language and multilingual practices in qualitative, ethnographic data, Senegal Abroad shows how language is key in understanding the formation of national, transnational, postcolonial, racial, and migrant identities among Senegalese in Paris, Rome, and New York. This is a book about language attitudes, how they influence people’s local and global interactions with the world, how they change through the experience of migration, and how in turn they affect migrants’ language use. Senegal Abroad received the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies at the MLA 2021. In addition to the Senegalese Diaspora, Maya focuses on how blackness is constructed in the French Caribbean and is also interested in language pedagogy. She is also devoting time to public scholarship seen in her recent publication in Yes! Magazine: “Enunciating Power: Amanda Gorman and My Battle to Claim My Voice.” Maya has been the recipient of various grants including the Camargo Foundation's Author-in-Residence Fellowship, the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, the UW Research Royalty Fund Fellowship, the Simpson Center Society of Scholars.


Partnered Films series organized in collaboration with BCC's lead organizer Berette S Macaulay, NWFF's Artistic Dir. Rana San & team, and UW French Lecturer Richard Watts, with the Henry's Youth & Public Programs Manager and Curator, Ian Siporin and Mita Mahato.

Katz Lecture organized by Simpson Center's Director Kathleen Woodward and Programs & Events Manager, Caitlin Palo.


Sponsored by Simpson Center for the Humanities in co-presenting partnership with UW African Studies Program, Black Cinema Collective, Henry Art Gallery, and Northwest Film Forum.

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