Over a decade ago, as an undergraduate anthropology student at UC Santa Barbara, I encountered a book entitled the Epic of Sundiata, a rich story told in the traditional oral history style of the West African griot. It introduced to me the enchanting world of the great Mali Empire centuries ago, and I at once became interested in this region's myths and lore: its kings, divine hunters, legendary musical tradition, academic erudition, and spirituality.
Soon after, through my West African roommate who was taking an African studies course, I met and befriended Dr. Scott Lacy, an anthropology professor and researcher born in Ohio and now based at Fairfield University in Connecticut who has done work in Mali for over two decades. I was fascinated by the research he and his team of scientists and local farmers were doing pertaining to sustainable agriculture, as well as by his personal journey and story of transformation.
After discussing working on some short video projects with Dr. Lacy, I traveled to the village of Dissan in Mali, the epicenter of this research and where Scott has had a two-decade relationship with its inhabitants. I was soon overwhelmed by the experience and the potential of this model of sustainable agriculture and wished to turn these groundbreaking ideas into a film.
Moreover, Scott's spiritual journey of transformation and his brotherhood with farmers in the village inspired and motivated me to embark on a much larger project than the original short videos that I first intended to create. I have since returned to Mali to complete production of the film.
I feel that there is something real and relevant to the modern human condition in this unique story of personal and community perseverance in the face of huge environmental, economic, and political challenges, and that I must share these insights in the form of an intimate ethnographic documentary film.
Furthermore, local farmers like those in Dissan can teach us in America about the potential perils of food security we will face in America and beyond if we do not change how we approach agriculture in the face of population growth, climate change, and current socioeconomic systems pertaining to seed production and dissemination. Such are lessons that need to be heard and learned from.
I have the privilege of having personal access to the key individuals and communities in this film, giving me the opportunity to capture emotionally charged footage and interviews, as well as yield intimate images of the landscape and daily cadence of life in southern Mali.
-Michael Axtell (aka Yacouba Sangaré)