FEATURED IN FILM
Burama Sangaré is a leading farmer in the village of Dissan, local political representative in the village's region, and has worked tirelessly for over two decades with Dr. Lacy, plant-breeding scientists, and his fellow farmers on finding viable non-GMO seeds to feed his village and surrounding areas. The rest of the world can learn from his vast knowledge of agriculture and his views on human self-reliance and farming ethics, based on a lifetime in the fields in some of the world's harshest growing conditions.
Dr. Scott Lacy, known in Mali as Solomane Sangaré, is an anthropology professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He received his PhD at UC Santa Barbara in 2004. He researches community development and sustainability issues affecting the developing world, focusing most closely on West Africa and Mali. In 1994, perhaps by fate, Scott first arrived in Mali as a volunteer in the US Peace Corps, and did not speak a word of Bambara. Now he is fluent. He is the founder and executive director of African Sky, a non‐profit organization that collaborates with Malian communities in various service programs, and enjoys being a partner and collaborator with all his Malian colleagues.
Yacouba Sangaré is Burama's steadfast younger brother. He moved to the big city of Bamako years ago seeking work after growing up in Dissan, but is still an active member in Dissan's community and collaborates with Scott and African Sky on various projects throughout southern Mali. On Scott's first night in the village over twenty years ago, Yacouba was the first to greet him and provided Scott a lantern so he could read in the dark.
Siaka "Jeliba" Kouyaté is not only an amazing chaffeur and big personality who has worked with Scott for over four years, but he has assumed the important role of being Scott's personal "djeli", or griot, acting as a dynamic storyteller, confidant, peacekeeper, and historian, following in the footsteps of his family lineage and this ancient West African tradition that is older than Mali itself. His praises for the village of Dissan, various characters in the film, and for Mali are not to be missed.
Sam Samaké is the esteemed former Chief of Peace Corps Mali. He first met Scott over twenty years ago and gives perspective on the legacy of Peace Corps Mali and the future direction of the post-Peace Corps Mali era.
Bocar Bocoum has worked for Peace Corps Mali for several decades as a language instructor. With an infectious smile, he recounts Scott's early days as a Bambara language student while also offering his passionate insights on the power of cross-cultural exchange, Malian values, and the future of service programs in Mali sans Peace Corps.
Dr. Krista Isaacs is a leading and dedicated agroecologist researcher at ICRISAT Mali (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), based in Samanko. She has worked with the famed Eva Weltzien, a mentor of Scott. Her innovative work in Rwanda and Mali is emboldening participatory plant breeding initiatives through direct partnerships with rural farmers who grow crops in some of the world's most challenging growing environments. By blending agronomy, ecology, and social science, Krista integrates local knowledge and gender inclusivity to scientific discussions on food security and seed production. She earned her PhD at Michigan State University and is inspired by her former work as a Peace Corps volunteer.
The industrious Dr. Eva Weltzien worked as the main participatory plant breeding researcher for ICRISAT Mali for many years. She has worked closely with Scott and Burama on testing varieties in the fields of Dissan and has been Scott's mentor in his studies over the years. In 2002, out of twenty-three sorghum varieties from the lab, Burama chose one, "Bemba", that ended up being a sweeping success in southern Mali.
Tamba Traoré is a teacher of several subjects, including English, in the Markala area, north of Bamako. Aside from working closely with Scott and African Sky on numerous community-oriented projects, Tamba is an avid writer and poet. Through his soothing voice, he offers his intimate writings as well as timeless Bambara proverbs to the audience.
N'Pan Sangaré is the original settler of Dissan and founded the village several hundred years ago. His spirit form appears in the film and helps guide the audience on this journey. He embodies the sacred knowledge of the trees and local crocodiles that protect Dissan from harm.
Director/Producer/Director of Photography:
Michael Axtell, award-winning producer at AboveGrey Pictures and owner of Dreaming Monk Productions, was born and raised in the misty hills of San Francisco, California. He is known as Yacouba Sangaré in Mali, named after his host-brother there. Michael has a passion for visual anthropology and is the descendant of several generations of farmers on his maternal side. He studied film and video production at the Bay Area Video Coalition and the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking and recently won the Best Commercial Award as Producer for "Pancakes" at the 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival, the "Cannes" of the short film world. He first started building his craft while working for two years as a producer, director, cameraman, editor, and anchor on “Gaucho Scoreboard,” a sports television show at UC Santa Barbara.
He holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his work strives to highlight the wisdom and insight of ancient and traditional forms of knowledge while exploring the intersection between human ecology, science and technology, and the evolution of human consciousness.
Over the past several years, outside of work as a video producer, he has trekked to the Outback and Great Barrier Reef of Australia, walked on the sands of Zanzibar and the primordial Serengeti plains of Tanzania, regularly attended sumo wrestling events during a year of work in rural Japan, and has loved conversing with the locals in Spanish during his several trips to México. He traveled to Mali for a month to shoot footage for this film on his first trip there several years ago, and finished production in the spring of 2016 after two more amazing weeks in Mali.
Nyogon will be his first feature documentary film.
Samples of his other work can be seen at the Dreaming Monk Productions website.
Ezra J. Stanley is a multi award-winning creative force of nature with talents as a film director, actor, writer, editor, and painter. Born and raised in San Francisco, he is now based in Los Angeles, CA, and is the owner of AboveGrey Pictures, specializing in film, commercials, and music videos. He was selected as one of the world’s Hot New Directors for 2010 by Shoot Magazine and just won the Best Commercial Award as Writer/Director for "Pancakes" at the 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival, the "Cannes" of the short film world. His Levi's Jeans commercial "Post‐Mortem’” won Best Commercial at HollyShorts in 2011. His American Express commercial, “Traveler”, was also an Official Selection at this festival in 2011. Ezra J's ancestors came from the small tropical nation of Belize, giving him an innate understanding of the value of learning from traditional knowledge and spirituality. His unique approach to visual artistry is irreplaceable in this production.
Sadio Sogobá has worked for many years as a Bambara to French/English interpreter and translator for several companies and NGOs in Mali. He recently teamed up with African Sky to help facilitate a workshop for a women's literacy group in the village of Zeala, and the Nyogon team soon realized that his services would be a huge addition to the film. He has a passion for studying issues of sustainable development in rural Mali, and utilizes his experience of growing up in a village to fuel his work.