Opinion: Sudan’s Film Industry – A Roadmap to Development by Ricardo Preve

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Opinion: Sudan's Film Industry - A Roadmap to Development by Ricardo Preve

The Sudanese film industry was experiencing a revival after the end of the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. During Bashir’s 30-year tenure, personal freedoms in general, and artistic creativity in particular, were severely restricted. With the fall of the regime, Sudanese film producers saw an opportunity to make up for lost time, as was evident during the Sudan Independent Film Festival which took place in Khartoum in January of this year, and which I was privileged to attend. Organized by the Sudan Film Factory, an eclectic group of Sudanese artists who gather at a home in Sudan’s capital, reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement of Germany’s 1920s, the festival featured recent works by Sudanese film makers that challenged long-established norms about the depiction of political and cultural themes.

 

Sudanese films have made an impact in the international cinema scene lately. In 2019 Talking about Treesby Suhaib Gaslmebari, won several awards at international cinema festivals, including the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. Ambjad Abu Alala directed You Will Die at 20, an intriguing film that mixes traditional Sudanese folklore with a modern cinematic approach. And Khartoum Offside, the tale of the first female soccer team in that city, directed by Marwa Zain, showed that Sudanese women were also participating in the revival.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced a halt upon Sudan’s film industry, as it has all over the world. But this perhaps provides an opportunity for reflection as to how the surge of post-dictatorship creativity can be made to grow into a permanent industry that could be part of a politically (and economically) stable Sudan.

 

If we look at how other countries have grown their film industry, we often find an association with a geographical location. The most obvious example is in the US, where the word “Hollywood” immediately connotes a connection with the world’s most powerful film scene. But other countries, perhaps more comparable with Sudan, have also tied their cinematic creativity to specific locations. Italy’s Cinecittà, located on the outskirts of Rome, survived World War II to be the site of both Italian and international productions, an association epitomized by Federico Fellini’s famous Studio 5 at Cinecittà, where he directed some of his most important films.

 

Beyond the Khartoum/Omdurman region, Sudan could look at some of its extraordinary cultural sites to support the development of cinema production. One possibility is the ancient city of Meroe, approximately 200 kilometers north-east of Khartoum. Consisting of a complex of more than 200 pyramids dating back to when the city was the center of the Kingdom of Kush, it is just one example of Sudanese locations that combine stunning visuals with a production-friendly dry climate. Interestingly, Meroe also provides a link between the Nubian and Latin civilizations: Rome and Meroe signed a peace treaty in 22 BCE, perhaps hinting at a cultural interchange that could be revived today.

 

If its industry is to grow into any culturally meaningful artistic movement, it is essential that Sudanese stories be told by Sudanese film makers. Here we must address a historical wrong that begs to be righted: the British film Khartoum (1966) directed by Basil Dearden, and starring Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier, is riddled with historical inaccuracies. Profoundly racist and culturally biased against Africans, the film features Laurence Olivier in blackface as the Madhi, the Muslim religious leader, portrayed as the very personification of evil, who seeks to kill every white person he sees. This was probably the last time a major international production looked at Sudan in any detail, and in addition to being partly filmed at Pinewood Studios (the emblematic location of British cinema), a final slap in the face to the Sudanese was the fact that the exteriors were shot in Egypt.

 

Sudan is one of Africa’s largest countries, with a rich and diverse cultural heritage overflowing with stories that deserve to be told. And Sudan certainly has the people, and the talent, to translate that cultural heritage into great cinema. I recently taught a seminar in Khartoum on film production to a group of about two dozen Sudanese film makers, and you could see the eagerness in their eyes, and the passion in their hearts for the chance to tell those stories.

 

Perhaps Sudan’s film industry is not yet ready for the remake of a big production such as Khartoum. It would perhaps be too risky an investment for the current fledglingstatus of Sudanese cinema. And no one knows how films will be made while the pandemic is still present.

 

But there is no doubt that, after 30 years of creative lockdown, Sudan’s film makers are ready to make their mark in the world. It is high time that they be given a chance to do so.

Ricardo Preve is an Argentine – Italian filmmaker. His most recent feature film “Coming Home”was partly shot in Sudan, and was broadcast on Sudan National TV, RAI – Italy National TV, and released in cinemas in Argentina. He is a former producer / director of documentaries at National Geographic Television.

Ricardo Preve

Instagram + Twitter @rickpreve

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Ricardo-Preve-307528435929191/

Web www.prevefilms.com

This post was written by Guest Contributor.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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Thank you so much to African News Today for publishing my piece. For those who wish to see my film “Coming Home”, it is available at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/tornandoacasa