Skip to content

Alum Apolline Traoré’s ‘Sira’ Shows Brutality, Beauty of Life in Burkina Faso

Apolline Traoré sits with numerous movie awards in front of her
Apolline Traoré ’98 credits Emerson with preparing her for a career in the film industry. (Photo courtesy Apolline Traoré’s Instagram)

Apolline Traoré’s (’98) film, Sira, was the first movie from Burkina Faso to be submitted for an Academy Award for the Best International Feature Film in more than three decades. (One of 88 films submitted, ultimately it wasn’t nominated.)

Traoré wrote and directed the film, spoken in Fula and set in her home country of Burkina Faso. The film is about a young woman who is attacked by terrorists on her way to getting married and stands up to her attackers.

Traoré answered questions while in Burkina Faso about the film, her career, her Emerson College experience and more.

Why did you choose the main character’s name, Sira?
Sira means first-born girl in the Fula community. Sira is the first born. In my culture, my middle name means second girl born. She is the one who will basically lead. She becomes a leader.

Why did you want to tell this story?
I wanted to tell the story because Burkina Faso’s society is going through a lot of terrorist attacks. I wanted to talk about bravery of women in that war. Especially because there’s a lack of knowledge in the international community. A lot of people are talking about other worlds, but a lot of people don’t know what’s happening here. I wanted to talk about it through the film, and know it and understand it.

The second thing is that I wanted to give hope to the community. The film is very, very hard. There’s a type of hope at the end that can give some relief to that community and it’s saying, ‘You’re going through a lot right now, but it’s going to be OK.’

WARNING: This trailer contains graphic images of violence, and refers to sexual assault.

Sira was filmed in Mauritania because at the time, the Burkina Faso government said it was not safe to film where Apolline Traoré ’98 had planned on filming.

You were born in Burkina Faso. Did you grow up there? What was your childhood life?
I left when I was 7. My father spent 30 years as a diplomat and traveled a lot. When I graduated from high school, I moved to the United States to go to school.

Where do you live now?
Burkina Faso. I came back. I was going back and forth from 2005 to 2008, and in 2008, I stayed.

Why did you want to set this very sad story in such a beautiful setting?
It was important I wanted people to see the beautiful scenery of the world. If you believe in God, you can see what nature has given us, and inside that, humans are killing themselves. Humans are horrific. The landscape is so beautiful, but inside, men are being monsters. That’s how I portrayed this film.

You’ve spoke about using silence a lot in the film. How important was sound and the sound of silence to this movie?
It was very important. I wanted the audience to feel what I felt when I went to the desert. When I got there, it was so big, so deserted, there was nothing in front of you, and at the same time there was silence. You can‘t see anyone. It’s maybe, you’re frightened of what you don’t know. You don’t see any danger, but you can feel the silence. We’re so used to feeling noise everywhere.

An interview with Apolline Traoré for the Berlin International Film Festival.

The film was nominated for Best Picture at the African Movie Academy Awards, and you won Best Director. It also was one of 88 international films considered for Best International Film for the Oscars, but didn’t make the two final rounds. How does it feel for you to be recognized for your work by such highly esteemed organizations?

It’s very, very important. Of course, you make movies for the world, for the audience, so people are touched. I always feel awards are a lot like strawberries on the cake.

It’s been 20 years that I’ve been making films. For this film to be recognized, it’s a long journey and I’m very proud. For the Oscars, I wanted Sira to be on the list. It’s extremely important to just be on the list because Burkina Faso hasn’t had a film on it for the last 35 years. It’s important to bring back my country.

Of course, we know to go far with the Oscars, you need a lot of money. Unfortunately, my country is in a state of war. I got the help from the government I could, but it wasn’t enough. I’m happy where we got. We’ll try again next time.

Apolline Traoré ’98 after becoming the first woman to win Best Director from the African Movie Academy Awards.

What did you do to market the film?
I wasn’t able to go to LA. I had a publicist there. My music composer on the film was also doing marketing there in LA. I didn’t sleep at home … for two weeks consecutively [in 2023], I was always going from place to place, festival to festival.

How did your Emerson experience help professionally and/or personally?
It helped me a lot, Emerson showed me what competition is. Students are competitive. That was very important. We were told about what was happening after Emerson. They push you to build your ego… and then you’re alone in the world. The real world of cinema is competitive. I had some teachers who prepared us for a life after Emerson.

Today most critics will talk about my cinema, and say it looks similar to American films. If you look at African or European films, there’s a poeticness. I always say America gave me the tools of how to make film, and Africa, my hometown and culture gave me my stories. I have both worlds. American taught me how to make films through Emerson.

Were there particular professors who guided you?
My directing professor, Andrew Willington. For Desrances, my previous film before Sira, I went to a festival in Barbados where I was competing, and who do I see there? My teacher from Emerson. He was a really, really big help through my four years of college, telling me what to do, and pushing me about what type of films I want to make. I mostly make drama. I don’t do anything else. Through his education, through his pushing, I discovered how to tell dramatic stories. He had heard that I was there and he came to the cinema.

What advice would you give aspiring African filmmakers?
The advice I would give them, is to have passion first. Right now, this generation is about the bling bling. And never take no from anybody. Whatever happens, you just go on, you could have 1,000 ‘no’s and one day you’ll have a ‘yes’. To get that career, you’ll have a lot of ‘no’s.

(Visited 331 times, 1 visits today)