Mali: Tuareg filmmaker turns lens on women

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Northern Mali is home to famous cultural heritage sites. If most of it consists of remains of the past, a young generation of female directors is striving to make a name for itself for posterity.

In Timbuktu, Fati Walet Mohamed Issa is a documentary filmmaker. A rarity for female filmmakers in the remote northern region. The 24-year-old has recently shot a 10-minute film entitled "Tamadjrezt" or "Regret" in the Tamasheq language of Issa's Tuareg ethnic group.

Her documentary follows a 15-year-old girl named Fatma, whose family fled to neighbouring Mauritania because of the conflict in norther Mali but then returned home. The adolescent attended a school built of straw, which didn't survive the Malian torrential rainy season. Despite her wishes, her father refused to let her pursue education.

The film is not only a piece of art but a manifesto for the filmmaker: "Everything regarding women is a problem in our country, because they are too heavily governed by the community. I made this film hoping that it would impact our community, hoping it would help change their opinion on young girls and their access to education. I also hope to reach the state and the authorities. It is a matter of awareness in fact, I do it as a form of advocacy."

At the film showing, dozens of people from the local community watched attentively. Girls and boys alike discovered the film, which sheds the light on the plight of women in the conflict-torn Sahel region that could change mindsets. At least this what Abel Kavanagh, Timbuktu Minusma spokesperson hopes for:"Cinema is an excellent tool to raising awareness about the issues that are the major challenges facing Mali today, particularly in Timbuktu and the region."

Trailblazer

If Mali has a rich cinematic tradition, with several renowed female directors, Tuareg female directors like Issa are few. The 24-year applied and was selected by an American NGO called Accountability Lab to make a short film about the status of women, which resulted in "Tamadjrezt". Nine other films were also commissioned by the NGO, which dealt about taboo topics such as prostitution or domestic violence.

"The project mainly consists in training 10 young women coming from various regions of Mali, and touches on a wide variety of themes, Zeina Mohamed Ali, an Accountability Lab delegate explains.Themes that address problems communities throughout Mali generally encounter. The idea behind the projects is also to give women a voice so that they can express themselves."

At the end of the screening session, spectators discussed and shared their opinions on the film. A documentary that can stir the debate in a part of Mali where education for girls is not deemed a priority because of traditions, insecurity and a lack of infrastructure.

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