Cinematic Cultural Change in West Africa with Idrissa Ouédraogo

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Idrissa Ouédraogo, whose simple, carefully observed movies about cultural change in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa, brought him international acclaim and a top award at the Cannes International Film Festival, recently died. We share his first film, Yam Daabo (The Choice) about a family facing famine in the Sahel.

Idrissa Ouedraogo

The film Yam Daabo by Idrissa Ouedraogo: Poverty and misery are rife in Gourga, a village in the Sahel. The inhabitants must choose: stay and await international assistance or leave for more fertile regions in the country.

Giving Life to West African Rural Realism in Cinema

Idrissa Ouédraogo (21 January 1954 – 18 February 2018) was a Burkinabé filmmaker who studied in the Soviet Union (Kiev) and France (Paris). His work often explored the conflict between rural and city life and tradition and modernity in his native Sahel region of Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa. He is best known for his feature film Tilaï, which won the Grand Prix at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and Samba Traoré (1993), which was nominated for the Silver Bear award at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.


Yam Daabo (1986, Idrissa Ouedraogo)

Mr. Ouédraogo’s first feature, Yam Daabo (“The Choice,” 1986, in the Mooré language of Burkina Faso, which is in Western Africa) was well received, and focuses on a rural family’s decision in facing a famine to remain reliant on aid or to move location and become self-sufficient. His films have been praised for their visual allure, charming vignettes, affecting performances, technical sophistication and inventive mise en scène. These qualities are present, to a greater or lesser degree, in all of Ouedraogo’s work.

Mr. Ouedraogo largely used villagers and other nonprofessional actors in his films. Sometimes, to explain what he was doing, he would have to show them a movie first because they had never seen one. Scripts were often useless because his amateur actors couldn’t read.


Tilai trailer, 1990

Tilaï, winner of the Cannes 1990 Special Jury Prize and the FESPACO 1991 Étalon de Yenenga, established his international reputation. Since then he directed five more feature films, a total of eight in all, as well as shorts, documentaries, television programs and contributions to portmanteau films. The other features are A Karim na Sala (1991), Samba Traoré (1993), Le Cri du cœur (1994), Kini and Adams (1997), and La Colère des dieux (2003).

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt