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Mauritanian Movie’s Oscar Nomination Is a First

FILE - ‘Timbuktu’ director Abderrahmane Sissako, right, and actress Toulou Kiki appear at France's film festival in Cannes, May 15, 2014.

Next month's Academy Awards show is putting a spotlight on the film industry in Mauritania. Director Abderrahmane Sissako’s "Timbuktu" is the first movie made in the West African country to be selected as an Oscar contender.

On Thursday, after the drama was nominated in the category of Best Foreign Film, Sissako called himself a "happy filmmaker."

"I’m [a] happy man for my country, for Mauritania, for Africa, for many people," he said in an interview with VOA.

The film, which depicts the title Malian city but was shot in Mauritania, deals with the 2012 Islamist militant invasion of northern Mali. It illustrates conflict between the militants and residents in showing a family torn apart by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. It dramatizes antagonism between Africans and Tuareg Arabs, farmers and fishermen, and friction among different generations.

Performers from nearly 30 countries appear in the movie, produced by Sylvie Pialat of France.

"Timbuktu" competes for Best Foreign Film with director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s "Leviathan," Pawel Pawlikowski’s "Ida," Zaza Urushadze’s "Tangerines" and Damian Szifron’s "Wild Tales."

The 2015 Academy Awards show is set for February 22 at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theater.

"Timbuktu" also was the only film by an African director chosen to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Films Festival last May. Although it didn’t claim the top honor, the film came away with the Ecumenical Jury prize and the Francois Chalais award honoring journalists.

The drama was shown at Nouakchott’s seventh short film festival in the Mauritanian capital, organized by the House of Mauritanian Filmmakers. The country’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, attended the premiere along with several ministers.