Can't Travel to Mali? Three Films That Take You There

By Merritt Frey, Executive Director

I really wish we could take all of you with us to Mali. You'd have a wonderful time, get a little hot and dusty, and never be quite the same.

But it's a long and expensive trip. And the security situation can be intimidating. And your job probably doesn't give you enough vacation time. And it's hard to find a pet-sitter.

So let's go to the movies.

If there's a movie that really captures Mali I've yet to see it. But here are three very different films that will give you a sense of the landscape, the people, and even the heat and dust.  So make some popcorn and take a tour of Mali this weekend.

Timbuktu (2014)
This is a beautiful but also terrible look at life in northern Mali during the uprising of 2012.  Amazon summarizes the plot this way: "A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives -- which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith -- abruptly disturbed."

Timbuktu was nominated for an Academy Award and won multiple awards internationally. The movie is breath-taking (it was actually filmed in Mauritania, not Mali) but it is also frightening. Not for children! Available to stream on Amazon or DVD rental on Netflix. (Not to be confused with the 1959 war movie, Timbuktu.)

This 2006 film is set in Mali's capital city and deals with very urban themes. For me, part of its interest is that it tackles issues related to international development, poverty, and more. Don't let that scare you off though -- it is entertaining and was well-received. Alas, I couldn't find anywhere you can stream Bamako with English subtitles, but the DVD is available through Netflix, and many sites like Amazon sell the DVD. Or if your French is good, you can watch it on youtube

Running the Sahara
Okay, this one isn't really about Mali but rather about crazy people who run through Mali (among many other countries) on their 4,300 mile trip across the Sahara. The streaming site DigiNext summarizes it this way: "Their goal is to run across six African countries, anticipating two marathons per day, for eighty days ... without a day off."  Bonkers. But it makes for a fun documentary. Matt Damon narrates and the cinematography is just great. And who knows: maybe it will motivate you to get off the couch and go for a run. You can purchase the DVD or stream it online for $10.