Sudanese cinema looks to the WestBy MAHA ELSANOSI | Wednesday, January 18 2012 at 09:47
In another life, Sudan was packed with bars, nightclubs and cinemas and its film industry was booming. As early as 1928, open-air cinema theatres screened western and Egyptian comedies, action, romance even more experimental dramas.
However, in 1993, the Minister of Culture and Information issued a ministerial order to suspend the Sudan Cinema Corporation, the then sole distributor of movies in the country, causing the collapse of a once-thriving industry. Today, very little cinematic activities happen, apart from European film festivals and such. It's like more less what happened to cinema in Kenya and other African countries.
With few options, the Sudanese cinema lover can watch Indian films in one of Sudan’s sixty-eight seasonal theatres, or download films from Internet in the comfort of the home. That has slowed the cinemas, even changing the way entertainment is consumed in the predominantly conservative society.
The local producers have also had their share of challenges. In the past fifteen years, only three Sudanese feature films have seen the light, with little success to show despite the country's pioneering act in African cinema after Gadalla Gubara, often recognised as the first African filmmaker, made his movie in the 40s. A director and producer, who studied in California, Gubara created the first full feature film in Sudan; Tajouj. The film, set among the Homran of North Sudan, an Arabic-speaking ethnic group, has come to be known as the Sudanese Romeo and Juliet.
This was before his peers were hit with competition from hugely successful Bollywood and Hollywood, leaving Sudanese cinema with few options apart from begging from the West to produce arts cinema, but nothing to liken to sensational stuff that sustain cinema cultures across the world.
Going to the West
With little funds and censorship, there are just a few low-budget short films and documentaries produced with assistance from foreign organisations, with their interests dictating the direction of creativity.
They include Sittana, directed by Gihan Eltahir, and Orange Tint, directed by Areej Zarrouq, and produced by Goethe Institute in Khartoum. These are scheduled to screen at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival.
Award-winning Sudanese documentary filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri has released three documentaries; namely Orphans of Maygoma, which was commissioned for Al Jazeera Witness, and All About Darfur and Mother Unknown which screened at international film festivals, April 2012.
Elsanhouri, who says writer’s block turned her to film, thinks the future of the Sudanese film industry is yet to come.
“I think a new generation is making that future as we speak and we are so lucky to have so many stories to tell. Of course we also have our limits – bureaucratic and otherwise - but even those limits can be turned into creative opportunities both stylistically and narratively,” said Elsanhouri.
Another film coming out of Sudan soon is Faisal Goes West, a short feature film. Set for release later this year, it depicts a Sudanese family trying to adjustment to life in America.
“There are many documentaries on Sudan, Darfur, the Lost Boys, et cetera but virtually no Sudanese features, "Bentley Brown says adding these type of documentaries largely reflects the international community's interest in Sudan for mere political or feel-good humanitarian reasons – as if Sudan is a constant case study of suffering and people in need, and foreigners can be the ones to help."
Bentley, Faisal Goes West project’s writer and director who operates in Texas and Sudan, emphasises that his film is Sudanese cinema; and not just a film about Sudan. “In the end, this is a film that ridicules the American Dream but praises the story of those who, regardless, persevere through resilience,” he noted.
The Sudanese stage, on the other hand, is a bit more active. Ranging from ancient folk drama to contemporary plays that probe politics of the day, Sudan has a rich history of theatre. But it was the1960s and the 1970s that marked the golden years of Sudanese theatre.
Most evenings Khartoum hosts a performance or two. Many art lovers still consider theatres as a perfect setting for public entertainment in the country. They often come in groups.
Located in Omdurman, the second largest city in Sudan, the National Theatre overlooks the river Nile. It hosts drama and music festivals, plays and artistic performances all year long and marks the presence of dozens of art aficionados.
Today, Khartoum has three professional theatre groups – with the amateur theatre scene entertaining more fans. Outside Khartoum, there are a number of theatres that are well patronised.
- London terror suspect had been detained in Kenya
- Somalia lists 1,345 foreigners in Mogadishu
- Why Obama is visiting Tanzania
- The girl who met Gaddafi 'in hell'
- Sierra Leone gay activist narrowly escapes death
- After Berlin Man, two reported cured of HIV in Kenya
- Kenyan call girls go high-tech
- Tough life for Eritreans two decades after independence
- ICC to 'explore other options' if Kenya fails to cooperate
Beyond the ballot