This past February Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako was released in the UK and North America. The film is a searing indictment against the IMF and the World Bank, shot documentary-style with real lawyers, witnesses and family members, culminating in a fictitious mock-trial where African society “legally” challenges the World Bank. The direction is exceptional, but the dialogue is unflinching in its politics, where witnesses speak of the devastating effects that 20 years of structural adjustment policy by the G8 has had on the African continent.
The film launches a devastating, albeit rhetorical, blow to economic neoliberalism and the West’s inability to intervene in the process of privatization. Witnesses give long speeches that connect the audience to the real lives lived in Mali – the country where the trial takes place – and to the socio-political realities of much of African society. The film is an emotionally-charged personal essay articulated by many, levied against the powerful and the affluent, and acted out in the courtyard of the director’s family, where throughout his upbringing he was politicized through lengthy debates on Africa and the West with his father. Bamako is mostly potent speeches from African teachers and writers who expose the regressive and destructive nature of privatization, who point to the complete and utter failure of an imported economic strategy, and who tell stories of suffering and struggle caused by or exacerbated by such policy. Do not be fooled, there is little pity to be found in all this: the vigorous speeches set a fiery tone of anger, resistance and regeneration that should cause even the odd republican bow-tied banker on Wall Street to at least exercise the imagination in seeing numbers as real, lived consequences. Bamako is after all, a film that personalizes policy without pulling any punches.
The trial device is the central element of the film, with some snippets of stories acted outside of the courtyard, revealing “life-as-usual” day to day activities like weddings, work, family, and relationship complexities. However the heart of this film is an uncompromising investigation into the greedy, racist and neo-colonial economic policies of a self-concerned Western hegemony and the ultimately destructive policy effects on the continent of Africa. The problem’s cause identified and indicted, the film also focuses on accountability and “sentencing” for the guilty. This adds up to a powder keg of calculated political attacks that places power in the hands of the oppressed, at least for two incredibly moving cinematic hours. It is an important piece of art that demands an especially Western audience, as it is after all the West’s leaders who apparently act in the interest of the West’s populations while pursuing the pillage-based policy of Africa. As Sissako says:
“…faced with the seriousness of the situation in Africa, I felt a kind of urgency to bring up the hypocrisy of the North towards the Southern countries.”
For more information visit the Bamako site.