Idrissa Ouedraogo, whose simple, carefully observed movies about cultural change in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa brought him international acclaim and a top award at the Cannes International Film Festival, died on Sunday in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where he lived. He was 64.
The country’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, announced the death on Twitter. No cause was given.
Mr. Ouedraogo (pronounced oh-dra-OH-go) was in his early 30s when he wrote and directed his first feature, “Yam Daabo” (“The Choice,” in the Mooré language of Burkina Faso, which is in Western Africa), a 1986 release about a family disrupted by famine.
When it was shown in New York in 1988 as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors/New Films festival, Caryn James, in her review in The New York Times, called it “a beautifully composed, emotionally triumphant film” and said that “it brings to our attention a most valuable filmmaker.”
A bigger international success came in May 1990, when Mr. Ouedraogo’s “Tilai” (“The Law”), about the violation of familial taboos, was one of two films to receive the Gran Prix at the Cannes festival, the event’s second-highest honor after the Golden Palm.
“Films like ‘Tilai’ do more than restore one’s spirit,” Jay Carr wrote in reviewing it in The Boston Globe in 1991, “they restore one’s perspective, reminding us that there’s still such a thing as a self-renewing word cinema, and Ouedraogo — not likely to be invited to a Hollywood power lunch soon — is a major figure in it.”
Mr. Ouedraogo was born on Jan. 21, 1954, in Banfora, Burkina Faso. His parents were farmers, and he grew up in a village outside Ouagadougou.
In primary school, he showed enough promise that, as was customary, he was sent to Ouagadougou to continue his studies. There, he made sure to reserve enough money each week to buy a ticket for a weekend show at one of the city’s three outdoor cinemas, favoring karate films and Hindi musicals.
Mr. Ouedraogo continued his education at the Institut d’Hautes Études Cinématographiques in Paris. (Burkina Faso is a former French protectorate, and its official language is French.) He received a degree in film studies at the Sorbonne in 1985.
Mr. Ouedraogo made a series of short films before “The Choice,” and he followed that feature with “Yaaba” (“Grandmother”), which won a critic’s prize at Cannes in 1989.
His later films included “Samba Traoré” (1993), about the aftermath of a botched robbery (the title is a character’s name), and “Kini & Adams” (1997), a story about two friends in Zimbabwe. “Samba Traoré” won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival, and “Kini & Adams” was shown at Cannes.
In 2002, he contributed a segment to “September 11,” a composite film in which 11 directors provided different perspectives from around the world on the 9/11 attacks. His was a somewhat humorous take, a story about five impoverished boys who become convinced that Osama bin Laden is in their town and hope to earn a $25 million reward by capturing him.
Mr. Ouedraogo largely used villagers and other nonprofessional actors in his films. Sometimes, to explain what he was doing, he would have to show them a movie first because they had never seen one. Scripts were often useless because his amateur actors couldn’t read.
“I don’t teach them how to act,” he said in a 1989 interview with The Times. “The lines are easy and often ad-libbed. I simply explain to them what emotions I want them to feel under certain situations. And they already know a very wide range of these emotions.”
Throughout his career, Mr. Ouedraogo advocated for better financing for African films — he would often travel to Paris to secure backing for his — and for setting a high bar.
“I want African cinema to escape from the ghetto, to get more resources,” he told The Guardian in 1991, “but I don’t see myself as an ‘African’ director. I think films should be relevant to everybody.”
Mr. Ouedraogo was sometimes criticized for presenting one particular aspect of Africa — small stories of village life — and not taking on subjects like rampant political corruption. But he was unapologetic.
“Some people make politics their life,” he told The Guardian in 1991. “I don’t.”
His most recent feature film, according to the Internet Movie Database, was “Kato Kato” in 2006. He also sometimes directed for African television and the theater and produced movies.
A list of his survivors was not immediately available, but he had a large extended family, as is evident from the credits on his movies, which are full of Ouedraogos. Although Mr. Ouedraogo once explained that the name is common in his country and that not all people with it are related, many actors and crew members were from his family, which made for an interesting scene at Cannes in 1990.
“ ‘Tilai’ takes place in remote African villages made of mud and straw, and is played by a fine cast of barefoot actors, a number of whom are the director’s relatives,” the critic Janet Maslin wrote in The Times. “Immediately after the screening of ‘Tilai,’ this same group and the director himself appeared at a black-tie festival reception in their dinner clothes and were warmly congratulated by, among others, the director of a film festival in Moscow.
“Culture shock in Cannes isn’t just an occupational hazard. It’s a way of life.”