Interview with Abderrahmane Sissako on “Dignity”
First of all, we would like to ask you where the story that you tell in your movie comes from.
The idea was born from the complexity of the theme proposed: dignity. I think it’s very difficult to deal with such sweeping concepts as justice and dignity in the allotted two or three minutes, so I looked for an idea that actually asked the question ‘What is dignity’ rather than answering it.
With regard to the topic that was given to you, which aspect struck you the most? Are there ways in which you were already addressing it in your work?
I think the most stimulating aspect of the theme is that dignity should be a worldwide question. Anyone can speak about it, no matter where they come from. I’m an artist and part of my identity includes being universal. As a film-maker I’ve always wanted to tell the story of people who have really difficult lives and deep down resent injustice, but still manage to keep going, to keep living, perhaps that’s dignity.
Human rights are real, something you can feel on your skin, and not something abstract. In a film, the artist and director — just like the poet — creates a personal universe that is drawn from his or her own life in one way or another. Can you help us understand the link between your short film and the experiences that led you to make it?
My origins and my life give me strong links to Africa. Injustice and suffering under many guises are endemic in Africa today and this drives me. I’ve always wanted there to be monuments to ‘worthy anonymous people’ in the world, along the same lines as the tombs to the unknown soldier, because I find them more interesting than the people whose names we know.
This is why I film people passing by, people I may never see again . . . but who leave their mark on me and on others, immortalized on film.
We think that culture in general and cinema in particular can help people to better understand the importance of human rights in their own lives. What do you want to provoke in the wider public with your film?
“Like water that nourishes the land to feed men”, someone said, “culture nourishes their souls to reconcile them”.
With this film I wanted to make the statement that there can only be peace in the world, that words like ‘rights’ and ‘hope’ can only have meaning, if the world’s wealth is more evenly distributed.
In most of the films created for this project, we see signs of clashes deriving from cultural diversity or caused by limitations imposed on individuals that curtail their freedom in different ways. What do you think is the reason for that?
This is certainly due to the failure to solve the important issues we face every day around the world. Our role as spokespeople obliges us to take a stand.
Now let’s talk a bit about you. Who is Abderrahmane Sissako?
I was born in Kiffa, in Mauritania. I studied film-making in the Soviet Union and now I live in France. I’ve lived in Africa and I think I’m a citizen of the world.
Abderrahmane Sissako was born in Kiffa, Mauritania on 13 October 1961. Among his most celebrated works are Rostov-Luanda (1997), Life on Earth (1998), Waiting for Happiness (2002), and Bamako (2006). “N’Dimagou — ‘Dignity'” was made as part of Art for the World’s “Stories on Human Rights” on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The above interview with Sissako was first published by the Art for the World blog on 7 January 2009; it is reproduced here for educational purposes.