Bring Back Film

An overhead fan spins overhead, cutting through the flickering artificial light as three students are focused on the flat-screen monitors before them, feverishly working. Three new, Sony video-cameras sit on a table beside one of the workstations. They form part of a group of aspiring Sudanese film-makers participating in a documentary film-making workshop organised by the Goethe Institut here in Khartoum. In four hours time, the fruits of their past five months’ labour would be presented on the roof of the building, but for the time being, the subtitles to these films are being hurriedly added for the benefit of the international audience who will be present.

Sudan has produced some reputed film makers such as Hussein Shariffe and Gadella Gubara—both of whom now dead—but there have not really been any films made in the past twenty years. Aspiring young Sudanese film-makers study abroad—in the UK, the United States—and produce their films overseas.

Talal Afifi, the project coordinator for the workshop, explains that this is because there is no film industry in place, unlike Egypt, Sudan’s northern neighbour, who’s cinema is renown throughout the Arab world. “There are no actors, no producers and no money for art. If you have a film, there is nowhere to screen it.” In the whole of Khartoum, there is one cinema.

“The relationship between the community and art is not bridged”, he explains, saying that most people regard the arts simply as entertainment for people who have money and want to enjoy themselves. “The culture of going to the cinema ended twenty-five years ago, so this generation has no idea of what is the cinema environment.”

But this new generation, growing up, is fresh with new ideas, aspiration and “a deep love for art and life”. For the workshop, twenty-one were selected to participate coming from varied backgrounds — the arts to management — to learn about the whole process of producing a film, from conception to cinematography, sound, lighting, directing and editing. What was important during the selection process was not their experience, but their love for the medium. “They were all obsessed with the idea of cinema and film-making” says Talal.

What he found interesting was the interest expressed by girls, with the majority of CVs sent coming from female candidates; from the six films produced during the workshop, five were by girls.

This is a country where everything is done by men; in the street, we only see men. So this is a real thing… Girls in Africa are more in touch with their inner identity.

Talal Afifi — project coordinator

In the scope of the workshop, students were free to develop a topic of their choice, although the constraints of working in Sudan limited that somewhat. Areej Zarrouq, whose film Orange Tint revolves around a typical girls’ day as they talk about life in Sudan, touches on gender issues, politics, problems they face and social interaction. But her original idea for the film was to focus on the tea-ladies of Khartoum, an idea she was forced to abandon due to problems getting permission from the Sudanese authorities to film. “I thought it was the perfect story” she says, but the authorities told her that she was not supposed to come near them, claiming they represent gender issues, poverty and inferiority. From my own experience of photographing in Sudan, one is obliged to sign a permit stating that photography of any “defaming subjects” is forbidden.

The final six films projected a broad spectrum of life and interest in Sudan. From Areej’s film of middle-class girls discussing life, to The Rabbaba Man - a working-class artist selling the stringed instruments he crafted whilst singing songs in impoverished neighbourhoods. The final film of the night was Diversity which followed a group of Sudanese artists as they promoted the idea of a unified Sudan - a subject evidently pertinent with the audience who will possibly see their country divided with the referendum in January 2011.

Talal talks about this subject, hoping for a unified Sudan post-referendum. Sudan is a vast and diverse country, and having this mixture makes everything more rich, enhancing art and culture within the country. “You are losing the scent of your perfume” he says.

Following the workshop, there is hope that some of the films will be accepted for international film festivals, with submissions to Cairo and East Africa. Formally, it is now finished, but the Goethe Institut will continue to support these—and other—artists, hosting the editing suite and filming equipment.

What we need here as artists in Sudan is the support of artists all over the world. Exchanging experience, knowledge, techniques and ideas… If [international] artists come here, they can find another kind of life that can give them more inspiration.