Raised in a Muslim family, Souleymane Cissé was a passionate cinephile from childhood and attended secondary school in Dakar, before returning to Mali in 1960 after national independence. His film career began as an assistant projectionist for a documentary on the arrest of Patrice Lumumba and in 1970 he returned to Mali once more, and joined the Ministry of Information as a cameraman, where he produced documentaries and short films. In 1972, he produced his first medium-length film, Cinq jours d’une vie and two years later he completed his first full-length film in the Bambara language, Den muso, the story of a young mute girl who had been raped, becomes pregnant, and is rejected both by her family and by the child’s father. Sadly Den Muso was banned by the Malian Minister of Culture, and Cissé was arrested and jailed for having accepted French funding.
Between that time and the early 80’s Cissé produced Baara and Fespaco which both earned him the Yenenga’s Talon prize at Fespaco. However it was only with his feature Yeelen that he captured the attention of cinephiles world wide. The coming-of-age film won the Jury Prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival making Cissé the first African filmmaker to win a prize. Now the legendary African cinema author will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 7th edition of the Montreal International Black Film Festival on September 27, 2011. Perhaps no other filmmaker presents the complexities of Africa, its culture and pushed the importance of its film industry, than Cissé. This honorary award recognizes his extraordinary contribution to the film industry, especially in the fields of independent filmmaking and African cinema. The MIBFF will to honour him for his amazing efforts to break down barriers and help create a better understanding of the reality of Black people through his films. The famous writer Dany Laferrière will be presenting him with the award.
“It’s impossible to express how honoured we are to pay tribute to a filmmaker who’s touched the whole planet through his work and who is still an inspiration to future generations”, said Fabienne Colas, president of the Festival. “We’re doubly honoured that Dany Laferrière, winner of the 2009 Médicis Award, accepted to present this award to Souleymane Cissé.”