By Lisa Vives
A Finnish-Somali filmmaker has scooped the grand prize at the Pan-African film festival known as FESPACO in Burkina Faso. The head of the prize jury called the winning feature a courageous film.
Director Khadar Ahmed’s film, The Gravedigger’s Wife, explores what people will do for love. It focuses on Guled, whose job it is to wait outside the hospital to bury the dead, and what he does to save his sick wife.
“It is a beautiful film that tells a story with humanity,” Mauritanian film director Abderrahmane Sissako is quoted as saying.
Set in Djibouti, it details the struggles faced by Guled, played by Omar Abdi, when he learns he has to raise funds to pay for his wife’s treatment.
His wife Nasra, played by Yasmin Warsame, is dying of kidney failure.
Ironically, as a gravedigger, Guled waits for the deaths of others in order to make the money which could mean his wife survives.
Ahmed wanted to “tell this story with dignity, tenderness and compassion – all the qualities I’ve been raised with”, the director told the Guardian newspaper.
The filmmaker was born in Somalia but moved to Finland as a teenager.
“I’m in awe. I’m speechless. Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for this type of love from the continent,” Ahmed wrote on Instagram.
A rare feature-length film in Somali, The Gravedigger’s Wife is also Somalia’s first entry in the Best International Feature Film category at the Oscars.
His film was 10 years in the making. Ahmed wrote it a decade ago, but was determined to direct it himself and so had to learn how to be a director, the Guardian reports.
As well as winning the prestigious award, known as the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, he also received $36,000 in prize money.
The Silver Stallion went to Haitian director Gessica Geneus for her film “Freda.” And the Bronze Stallion went to the Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid for “Tale of Love and Desire.”
The prizes were handed out at Fespaco’s closing ceremony in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou.
This was the 27th edition of the week-long biennial event, the continent’s biggest film festival that celebrates films largely produced in Africa by Africans.