Malian Masterpiece: Bamako

Rarely does a film shatter the medium’s traditional techniques and still manage to be enjoyable and insightful. But that’s exactly what Abderrahmane Sissako has done in his brilliant film Bamako, which screens at UCSB on Wednesday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m.

The fascinatingly relevant docu-drama-tragicomedy is set in a residential courtyard in Mali, where African citizens are putting the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) on trial for their crimes against the continent. Though the tale is set amid a day in the life of Mali, the witnesses, attorneys, and judges are real people, giving unscripted but highly researched commentary on how the West’s outreach has harmed or helped Africa. The imagery alone is stunning, but the arguments about loan paybacks to the West and how Africa is crumbling beneath our “help” are necessary listening for all.

The film was produced by Louverture Films, a company run by actor Danny Glover-who stars in a quirky spaghetti western segment of Bamako-and Joslyn Barnes, a former United Nations consultant. Despite the film’s nontraditional format, Barnes said there was no hesitation on their part to produce it, because they were familiar with Sissako and also knew a lot about the World Bank’s role in Africa. But most of all, Barnes was down with the message.

Barnes believes the West is “doing enormous damage across the continent” due to the increasing debt of African countries perpetuated by the West. “If this is what is meant by ‘help,’” she explained, “then I’d say get the hell out of Africa.”

In a New York Times article, director Sissako recalls that a friend of his told him, “Don’t think this film will change anything. But you have to make it. Perhaps then they will know that we know.” Although Barnes believes this film will spark compassion and then action, she agrees with the central sentiment. She explained, “I think it’s very important for the World Bank, IMF, and G8 [Group of Eight] to be aware that Africans are serving notice that they are quite knowledgeable about what is happening.”

Now it’s your turn, Santa Barbara. Go see it.

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