Ahmed's 'The Gravedigger's Wife' wins top Fespaco prize

Saturday October 30 2021

The Gravedigger's Wife is a rare Somali-language feature film, written and directed by Khadar Ahmed. PHOTO | COURTESY


A feature-length film by the Somali-Finnish filmmaker and director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed titled The Gravedigger's Wife won the best film award at the 27th edition of the Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television of Ouagadougou (Fespaco).

Ahmed, 40, was not present at the awards ceremony held on October 23. His film beat 16 others to win the “Étalon de Yennenga” (Stallion of Yennenga) awarded to the African film that best shows “Africa’s realities”.

The prize is named after the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, a mythical beast in Burkinabe mythology. The winner also takes home a cash prize of $36,000.

The 83-minute love drama acted in Somali, which Ahmed wrote and directed, and was released this year, revolves around Guled (played by Omar Abdi), whose job is to wait outside hospital to bury the dead.

Guled, a middle-aged man, lives in the slums of Djibouti city, and works hard to make ends meet.

His wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame), who suffers from a chronic kidney disease, desperately needs a transplant. A donor is found, but it’s not the end of the struggle. In order to buy the kidney, Guled needs to find, in only two weeks, as much money as a gravedigger earns in a year.


Guled and Nasra, who live with their teenage son, Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim) push themselves to the limits. How can they find the money to save Nasra?

“I’m in awe. I’m speechless. Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for this type of love from the continent. Congratulations to everyone involved,” Ahmed posted on his Instagram wall.

The head of this year’s international jury, Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, described The Gravedigger's Wife as courageous.

“It is a beautiful film that tells a story with humanity,” Sissako said.

The Gravedigger’s Wife also won the Best Score for Andre Mathias, and the Critics Award.

Film director

Ahmed was born in Somalia but moved to Finland as a teenager. He has directed several short films, including The Night Thief (2017). The Gravedigger’s Wife is his debut feature film. It is a co-production of companies from France, Somalia, Germany and Finland. It premiered at the International Critics’ Week programme at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

The film was subsequently screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was one of the winners of the Amplify Voices Award. It was selected as the Somali entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, the first time that Somalia had submitted a film.

The Silver Stallion went to Haitian director Gessica Geneus for her film Freda, which follows the story a young woman’s revenge after being forced into prostitution.

And the Bronze Stallion was won by the Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid for Tale of Love and Desire, a story of young love set around the study of erotic Arabic writing.

The Best Actor award went to Alassane Sy for his role in Nafi’s Father, directed by Mamadou Dia. He acted as a Senegalese imam with principles who tries to protect the town and his family from jihadists.

Zainab Jah won Best Actress for her role in Farewell Amor, by Tanzanian director Ekwa Msangi, a touching story of immigration and separation.

The Burkinabé film Night Nursery by Moumouni Sanou was named Best Documentary. It takes a compelling look at Burkina’s sex workers and their babies.

The Egyptian editor Khaled Moeit grabbed the Best Editing award for his work on Cannes-nominated long feature Souad, directed by Ayten Amin.

Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Kheidr won two special awards, the Prix Thomas Sankara and the Prix De La Chance for his debut short film Tuk-tuk. Based on a true story, it tells the story of Walaa who drove a tuk-tuk to make ends meet after her husband abandoned her and illegally fled the country,

Fespaco, a biennial event, was held in Ouagadougou from October 16 to 23.

Created in 1969, FESPACO became an institution in 1972 and a biennial event from its sixth edition in 1979. Based in Ouagadougou, FESPACO has a statute and is recognised by African States. It is a public administrative institution under the ministry for culture of Burkina Faso.

Walaa’s only way to secure income for her family was to drive a Tuk-tuk in a male dominated environment where women struggle. At the risk of being ridiculed, harassed and unaccepted while drowning in debt she embarks on a journey to fight for her livelihood.

“Tuk-Tuk” tackles the themes of illegal immigration, women’s social challenges, sexual harassment, and violence.

“Tuk-Tuk” won Best Short Film Award at the 2021 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, USA. The film premiered at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France. It was also selected to compete in the Malmo Arab Film Festival, the Cleveland International Film Festival, Alexandria International Short Film Festival, the Festival international de cinéma Vues d’Afrique, and the Bahrain Film Festival.

The short film category competition attracted 29 entries including “Little Black Dress” (23 min, 2021) by Esteri Tebandeke from Uganda.

The drama “Little Black Dress” is about Dee, a female protagonist, who is stuck in a cycle of routine, obligation and guilt figures out a way to reset her life amidst a feminist uprising.

Tebandeke told The EastAfrican that her film was well received by the audience in Ouagadougou.