Somali drama wins Fespaco film festival grand prize

The top prize-winning work at Africa’s premier celebration of film culture, held biennially in Burkina Faso, is about a gravedigger’s struggle to raise the money to pay for his wife’s surgery

Somalia’s entry, The Gravedigger’s Wife, written and directed by the Finnish-Somali cineaste Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, won the prestigious Étalon de Yennenga (“Stallion of Yennenga”) grand prize for best film at the pan-African Fespaco film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Sunday.

The poignant drama, about a gravedigger’s struggle to raise money to pay for his wife’s surgery, took home the US$35,714 prize money and golden stallion statue.

The film, which was Somalia’s first official entry in the Best International Feature Film category at the 2021 Academy Awards, premièred at the Cannes Film Festival in July.

Still from The Gravedigger's Wife by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, winner of Étalon de Yennenga at Fespaco 2021
Scene from “The Gravedigger’s Wife” by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, winner of the Étalon de Yennenga at Fespaco 2021

Ahmed, who could not be in Ouagadougou to collect his prize, previously said the film was inspired by incidents in his own family.

Rare gem

The Mauritanian film director Abderrahmane Sissako, who chaired the jury that vetted the 17 feature films in the competition, told Reuters that it was a courageous work from a country that does not make many films.

“So, when there is a film such as this one from there, it should be encouraged,” Sissako said.

“It is a beautiful film that tells a story with humanity. It is a love story also,” Sissako said after the ceremony presided over by Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Roch Marc Kaboré of Burkina Faso.

The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, known as Fespaco, is the largest biennial gathering for cinema from Africa and African film-makers. It attracts international and African cinema and television professionals from across the continent and the diaspora to the Burkinabè capital.

This 27th edition of the festival, which ran from16-23 October, was postponed by nearly eight months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and security challenges that Burkina Faso is facing.

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