'The Gravedigger's Wife': Somali story wins Africa's top film prize

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'The Gravedigger's Wife': Somali story wins Africa's top film prize
© ISSOUF SANOGO Aida Benelkadir, a representative for Somali director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, poses with the Stallion of Yennenga Grand Prize trophy for ‘The Gravedigger’s Wife’ at the 27th Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. AFP

A little more than one month after it won the Amplify Voices Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Gravedigger’s Wife has scooped Africa’s top film prize.

The drama, by Finnish-Somali writer-director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, won the prestigious Stallion of Yennenga Grand Prize for Best Film at the Pan African Film Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Sunday.

Filmed in Somali in Djibouti, the tenderly moving story of love and devotion follows Guled (Omar Abdi), a man who makes a precarious living from loss.

'The Gravedigger's Wife': Somali story wins Africa's top film prize
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Guled’s earnings pay to care for his wife Nasra (Somali-Canadian model Yasmin Warsame), whose kidney infection is slowly killing her. He can never hope to earn the cost of her treatment and Nasra, who is getting sicker, discourages Guled from returning to his home village to ask for help from the family that disowned him. She only wants to spend time with him and their troubled young son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim).

The film took home the 20 million franc ($35,714) CFA prize money and the golden stallion statue, beating 16 other African films to the top prize. The films in competition were made by directors from 15 different African countries.

It was also Somalia’s first official entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 2021 Academy Awards, and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July.

Ahmed, 40, who was not in Ouagadougou to collect his prize, has previously said the film, which is his first full-length feature, was a way to change perceptions about Somali people.

'The Gravedigger's Wife': Somali story wins Africa's top film prize
© Provided by The National From left to right: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, Yasmin Warsame, Omar Abdi, and Risto Nikkila attend ‘The Gravedigger’s Wife’ photocall during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Getty Images / AFP

“I see it as a story about the power of love, about devotion, about community about friendship,” Ahmed told The National.

“For too long, Somali people have been presented to the world as pirates, as radicals, as warlords, all of those one-dimensional stereotypical images you can think of,” he says. “I really just wanted to show my version of how I see myself, how I see my family, how I see my friends. And I wanted to tell this story with compassion, with tenderness, with love, with dignity, all these things I have been brought up with by my parents.”

Ahmed grew up in Somalia before moving to Finland, and his film received Finnish, French and German funding.

The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, known as Fespaco, is the largest biannual meeting of African cinema, which attracts international and African cinema and television professionals from the continent and the diaspora to the Burkinabe capital.

The 27th event was postponed by nearly eight months to October 16 to 23 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and security challenges faced by the country.

This year’s international jury was led by Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, who won France’s coveted Cesar Award in 2015 for directing Timbuktu.

The festival, first staged in 1969, is held every two years.

The event is closely followed by the US and European movie industries, which scout the event for new films, talent and ideas.

Additional reporting from AFP and Reuters

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