Michel K Zongo’s Looking for My Brother screens on Wednesday, 1 January 2013 at 20h00 GMT on Witness, Al Jazeera’s flagship documentary strand.

In 1978, 14-year old Joanny Zongo left his family home in Burkina Faso and travelled to neighbouring Ivory Coast. It’s a journey made by thousands of young Burkinabe men who see the trip as a rite of passage into adulthood. Most expect to stay for a few years before returning home. But Joanny stopped sending letters home after a couple of years and never came back. 18 years after he left, a cousin returning from Ivory Coast told the family that Joanny had died years before.

In 2011, Joanny’s brother Michel – four years old when his brother left home and now a filmmaker – makes the same migrant journey, to try to meet people who knew his brother and to discover what really happened.

“This is a remarkable film that captures the sense of how geographical distance still means something in Africa, and how it is possible for people to be away for years from their families and disappear,” says Giles Trendle, Al Jazeera’s director of programming.

Looking for My Brother is Michel’s first full-length film to be broadcast. As Espoire Voyage, it screened at Berlin and HotDocs, among other leading festivals, and won the Best First Film Award at Doclisboa.

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