Director Abderrahmane Sissako broke down in tears at the Cannes International Film Festival on Thursday (15May14) as he discussed his new movie Timbuktu, which depicts the harrowing real-life takeover of Northern Mali by Islamic fundamentalists.

The film, which is in competition for Cannes' top Palme d'Or prize, follows a close-knit Tuareg family which is torn apart in the jihadist takeover of Timbuktu in 2012, when religious extremists enforced the harshest form of Sharia law, but the subject proved a little too hard for Sissako to talk about at the movie's press conference in France, where he struggled to maintain his composure.

The director, who was born in neighbouring Mauritania and grew up in Mali, openly wept as he spoke about the plight of the city of Timbuktu, and at times placed his head in his hands as he addressed the festival media, while actress Toulou Kiki also cried as she sat silently beside him.

Explaining his emotional state, he said, "I cry in the place of those who experienced this real suffering. Real courage is those who lived these moments on a daily basis. They waged a silent combat."

The Malian government regained control of the north last year (13) with the help of the French army, but the fighting between the nation's military and rebel forces has continued following the breakdown of a truce in September (13).