BEFORE THINGS FELL APART

Listen to the words of African historians from the 17th century, and griots from the 21st century tell the history of West Africa. If the history of a real "Wakanda" existed, it would have been recorded by griots that narrate BEFORE THINGS FELL APART. In production over a period of several years, BEFORE THINGS FELL APART was filmed in Mali and Morocco. The key areas and artifacts in Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenne were filmed one month before the Civil War devastated the area. BEFORE THINGS FELL APART will subvert your expectations of a traditional narrative documentary, instead viewers share the inspiration from the images, animation, and music that infuses this ancient tale’s relevance to our contemporary interest. This documentary is inspired by the oral history recounted by traditional Griots, and the history books written on the African continent.

  • Tukufu Zuberi
    Director
    African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; Tides of Freedom: the African Presence on the Delaware River
  • Tukufu Zuberi
    Producer
    African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; Tides of Freedom: the African Presence on the Delaware River
  • Tukufu Zuberi
    Writer
    African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; Tides of Freedom: the African Presence on the Delaware River
  • Tukufu Zuberi
    Host
    African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; History Detectives; Tides of Freedom;
  • Ursula Rucker
    Narrator
    The Black Candle; Ursula Rucker: Poet;
  • Jabari Zuberi
    Cinematographer
    Bless; African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; History Detectives; Tides of Freedom;
  • Jabari Zuberi
    Editor
    Bless; African Independence; Decolonizing the Narrative; History Detectives; Tides of Freedom;
  • Salem Oluld El-Hajj
    Interviewees
  • Abdramane Ben Essayouti
    Interviewees
  • Mohamed Galla Dicko
    Interviewees
  • Dr. Mohamed Diagayete
    Interviewees
  • Sane Chirle Alpha
    Interviewees
  • Moussa Alion Haidara
    Interviewees
  • Aboloulay Soro
    Interviewees
  • Almami Bah
    Griots
  • Youssouf Traore
    Griots
  • Yelifa Traore
    Griots
  • Tante Touareg
    Griots
  • Sekou Dembele
    Griots
  • Sitan Kone
    Griots
  • Agaly Ayouba
    Griots
  • Sahalou Yehya
    Griots
  • Accra E. Zuberi
    Animation
    African Independence
  • Jorge Munoz
    Animation
  • Sadikfu Shabazz
    Sound Recording
  • Rodney Whittenberg
    Sound Post Production
    Anthony Bourdain’s show A Cooks Tour; The Camden 28; Infested; Return to Sleep Away Camp; Mother Dot’s; Toll Taker.
  • Rodney Whittenberg
    Additional Music
    Anthony Bourdain’s show A Cooks Tour; The Camden 28; Infested; Return to Sleep Away Camp; Mother Dot’s; Toll Taker.
  • Project Type:
    Animation, Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Documentary, Animation, Africa, Black, Civilization, Mali, Djenne, Timbuktu, Gao, Bamako, Western Sudan, Songhay, Songhai, Cinni Bibbi, Africana, Before Colonialism, Before European Colonialism, Mansa Musa, Kankan Musa, Wakanda, realwakanda, Documentary Animation, Griots, Imam, Griot, Mosque, Mopti, Niger River, Marrakech, Morocco
  • Runtime:
    60 minutes 14 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 20, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    200,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Mali, Morocco
  • Language:
    English, French, Other
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Director Biography - Tukufu Zuberi

Tukufu Zuberi is the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, museum curator, documentarian, and television host. Zuberi hosted the PBS HISTORY DETECTIVES. His first independent documentary, AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE, screened in in festivals and won numerous awards. He recently curated the Penn Museum Africa Galleries (AFRICA GALLERIES FROM MAKER TO MUSEUM). He has produced two new documentaries: BEFORE THINGS FELL APART; & DECOLONIZING THE NARRATIVE.

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Director Statement

Tukufu Zuberi’s work has taken him all over the African continent. However, only one place has sparked the intellectual and creative fires, which prompted him to make this documentary.

BEFORE THINGS FELL APART traces the dramatic rise and fall of Western Sudan from international prominence by piecing together the oral and written histories before things fell apart. With a little-known book written some 400 years ago, Ta’rikh al Sudan I will lead the viewer into Western Sudan history before things fell apart. The griot—part storyteller, part historian, and part musician—serves as my guide to complement the written word. This documentary about the Western Sudan gives us an opportunity to imagine human history and the achievements of a world civilization south of the African Saharan desert.

The rise and fall of the forgotten empires of the Western Sudan are finally brought back to life through this documentary about its symbol of civilization and greatness—Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenne. This cities where the educational, cultural and commercial center of Africa, but never before has its history been brought to the screen in this way—until now. The epic proportions of Timbuktu’s story are told as the viewer follows my personal quest to figure out what happened to the dominant city in West Africa. Solving the mysteries of Timbuktu requires me to follow the key figures like Mansa Musa (the richest man in history), Askia Muhammad (the greatest general in history), as well as visit the other major cities during this period. In Djenne and Gao we uncover the sister cities of knowledge and wealth; in Cairo and Medina we trace the steps of Mansa Musa’s legendary pilgrimage; and in Marrakech, Morocco we trace the steps from Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur palace to the battle field of Timbuktu and the end of the imperial era in the Western Sudan.