Exclusive: Arnaud Contreras photographs Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar nominated Timbuktu

Image of Abderrahmane Sissako by Arnaud Contreras

In January 2014,I spent more than 3 weeks in the southeast of Mauritania on the set of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu (which is nominated for an Oscar tonight). I was not there to do a “Making of”. My aim was to continue my Sahara Rocks! photo series, and to produce a radio documentary for Radio France – France Culture. Abderrahmane’s decision to shoot his film in such a dangerous area was a challenge, but good for the Sahel region. I wanted to bear testimony about this project and to meet the cast and crew. Many of them are refugees from the North Mali crisis still living in M’Berra refugee camp. During the shooting, the crew from the north and the south of Mali talked a lot about the war. Tuaregs, Bambaras, Arabs, Songhoys were discovering each other, exchanging their views on the situation and on their favorite football teams. Some of them were in Timbuktu during the jihadist occupation, and that film, the moments between two sequences, gave them the opportunity to share their stories with Malians from the south and with me. All of them want the film to be seen all around the world, and many told me the same thing : “We want that film to enlighten our people’s situation, we, the real hostages of that crisis.”

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