A new and powerful film industry flourishes in Mali between the 60s and the 70s. The State, which was governed by socialists from 1960 to 1968, understood the potential of the cinema as mean of communication and decided to invest in this new sector by creating a series of bodies aimed at improving its functionality. Those who, at the time, were the most esteemed Malian directors, had the opportunity to study in Eastern Europe, Moscow (Souleymane Cissé, Djibril Kouyaté, Kalifa Dienta and also Abderrahmane Sissako son of a Malian) or in East Berlin (Issa Falabra Traoré).


Image from the movie “Waati”. Downloaded from the web.

These directors focus on social problems within one of the most politicized film industry in sub-Saharan Africa. Variations on recurring themes are presented – women’s condition, education, the relation and conflict between different classes as well as between the city and the countryside – often resorting to genres such as melodrama, western and gangster. Some directors create a cinema that curiously combines the realism of the shots with their transformation into an unbalanced ploy thus producing a visual confusion, a disjointed glance.


Image from the movie “Waati”. Downloaded from the web

Souleymane Cissé is a filmmaker, photographer and projectionist who produced his first short films, and documentaries in the Soviet Union. Cissé has highly contributed to the Malian film industry. The conflicts and disputes between the guardians of the tradition and those opened to a less archaic dialogue are the centre of his works. Besides Yeelen (T.N. “brightness”,”light” in Bambara language), another important movie is Waati which not only is one of the best films of the ’90s but, above all, is a movie that marks a new beginning.

The Malian director explores the Continent, its condition and its desires. Waati is an ambitious colossal evolving in time and space, a journey, rather than a movie, through different stages: from the apartheid in South Africa to the Sahara, finally arriving in the renewed and newly democratic South Africa. A global movie, open to contamination and transformation in its search for the essence of existence and looking for comparison outside the geographical borders of Mali. Waati evokes elements characterizing Cissé’s works: women’s condition, class struggle and clash among different generations and cultures.


Image from the movie “Waati”. Downloaded from the web

The woman is both spectator and privileged actress. In fact, all the events in this political melodrama are filtered through the eyes of the protagonist Nandi during her different ages: as a little girl during the years of the racist repression against the Afrikaners, in a representation between fairy tale and rough realism; as a teenager and adult she is on the run and travelling; as a student and a young woman when she puts her life on the line, travelling to the most destroyed and dried  areas in Sahel. Nandi has magical powers: she is able to hypnotize with her eyes, she overcomes the obstacles and continues learning.

Many Malian movies represent intense portraits of women, although that of Nandi remains perhaps one of the most beautiful female characters in the history of Malian cinema.

If we looked beyond the walls of our homes, we would discover a world that speaks a universal language: the language of art and the supremacy of emotions. The African cinema is, still today, hardly understood by the wider public because the “third cinema” does not trigger the same rollercoaster feelings typical of Hollywood movies. However, if the fun and the special effects are put aside, we discover the poetry of a world that through emotion conveys the senses towards a great expressivity.

I would like to conclude this article by thanking, in particular, Mr Leonardo De Franceschi, an expert in cinema and African culture, he contributed to my cultural growth with his knowledge and passion. I recommend his studies and his in depth analysis on the subject as well as his website.

 by Claudia La Ferla

We talked about Mali also through the story of a very dear friend of ours whom we met shortly after he arrived in Sicily: Doumbia, the gentle giant with words of comfort and a smile for everyone. Doumbia, finally – step by step – is realizing his dream, “jouer au ballon“.

Translated by Claudia Rapparelli

Reviewed by Claudia Tanzi