Soon after his birth Sissako's family emigrated to Mali, his father's country, where he completed part of his primary and secondary education. Sissako returned briefly to Mauritania, his mother's land, in 1980. Then he left for Moscow, where he studied cinema at the VGIK (Federal State Film Institute) from 1983 to 1989. Sissako settled in France at the beginning of the 1990s.
1998 : La Vie Sur Terre (Life on Earth) (35mm, 67 minutes), set on the last day of the millennium (commissioned for the 2000 Seen By... series featuring other directors such as Tsai Ming-liang and Laurent Cantet) and filmed in Sokolo, Mali, Sissako's father's village. Special mention of the jury at the 16th FESPACO in 1999.
2002 : Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness) (35mm, 90 minutes), fictional film inspired by the filmmaker's exile and brief return to his home in Mauritania in 1980. First Prize (Étalon de Yenenga) at the 18th FESPACO in 2003.