By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz May 31, 2014 at 8:15PM
Timbuktu , a French-Mauritanian drama film directed by Abderrahmane Sissako won the Ecumenical Jury Prize. The Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (French: Prix du Jury Ecuménique) is an independent film award for feature films at the Cannes Film Festival established in 1974. The Ecumenical Jury is one of three juries at the Cannes Film Festival, along with the official jury and the FIPRESCI jury. The award was created by Christian film makers, film critics and other film professionals. The objective of the award is to "honor works of artistic quality which witnesses to the power of film to reveal the mysterious depths of human beings through what concerns them, their hurts and failings as well as their hopes." The ecumenical jury is composed of 6 members, who are nominated by SIGNIS for the Catholics and Interfilm for the Protestants. SIGNIS and Interfilm also appoint ecumenical juries at other film festivals, including the Berlin International Film Festival, the Locarno International Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival and the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
It also won the The Francois Chalais Prize, given at the Cannes Film Festival since 1997. It was created to pay tribute to the French journalist and film historian François Chalais, under the auspices of his wife Mei Chen. It rewards a film dedicated to the values of life affirmation and of journalism, and indeed this award also highlights the presence of journalists at Cannes itself.
Timbuktu , the only African film in Competition, was produced by Sylvie Pialat at Paris-based Les Films du Worso. Pialat, who is behind last year’s Alain Guiraudie’s Un Certain Regard winner Stranger by the Lake, won the 2014′s Toscan du Plantier award for France’s best producer.
Timbuktu is being sold internationally by Le Pacte who is also distributing it in France with TV5Monde. Cohen Media picked up U.S. rights in Cannes. Le Pacte and Cohen Media Group previously worked together on Claude Lanzmann’s documentary feature The Last of the Unjust. This film’s central theme is very much a part of the same fabric as Lanzmann’s concern about the coldly calculated and yet random acts of intolerance as perpetuated by an arrogantly confident group of “supremacists”.
“The film touched people’s souls … the film remained with people throughout the festival and caused bidding wars in many countries,” said Camille Neel, head of international sales for Le Pacte.
Timbuktu was also acquired for Canada (Axia), U.K. and Ireland (Artificial Eye), Germany and Austria (Arsenal), Italy (Academy Two), Spain (Golem), Portugal (Midas), Sweden (Folkets Bio), Norway (As Fidalgo), Benelux (Cinéart), Switzerland (Trigon), former Yugoslavia countries (MCF), Greece (Weird Wave), Turkey, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
The gazelle running, running from the guns of jihadists whose jeep races the beautiful animal with the idea of tiring it out is a metaphor for the foreign jihadists aiming to exhaust, if not to kill, the ancient, beautiful peaceful Islamic community living in Timbuktu and the surrounding desert and its oases.
The beauty and the pain of watching a people being exhausted by the mean-spirited unholy jihad acting in the name of Religion was sometimes painful to sit through. And yet one craves the nourishment offered by the warm love of the people which can never totally be conquered (one hopes!).
Away with the stereotypical visions of an Africa wracked by poverty and pain, and in with the vision of a particularly well-developed, ancient and efficient society of people still able to function in the natural setting where they have thrived for thousands of years. During the 2012 takeover of Timbuktu in northern Mali by Islamist militants, thugs who hate the West and yet use every western invention – from automobiles, Kalashnikov rifles, and smart phones to destroy fellow Islamic followers in the name of destroying the West itself are shown in a coldly accurate light.
The misinterpretation of the law, the arrogance of jihadists inflamed the audience as its sees the meek being disenfranchised from their own earth. Again the problem of evil and how to resist create questions left unanswered.