Cinema of Sudan
Cinema of Sudan refers to both the history and present of the making or screening of films in cinemas or film festivals, as well as to the persons involved in this form of audiovisual culture of the Sudan and its history from the late nineteenth century onwards. It began with cinematography during the British colonial presence in 1897 and developed along with advances in film technology during the twentieth century.
After independence in 1956, a first era of indigenous Sudanese documentary and feature film production was established, but financial constraints and discouragement by the Islamist government led to the decline of cinema from the 1990s onwards. Since the 2010s, several initiatives by Sudanese filmmakers both in Khartoum as well as in the Sudanese diaspora have shown an encouraging revival of filmmaking and public interest in film shows in Sudan.
Cinema in colonial SudanEdit
Sudan saw some of the earliest filmmaking in Africa to take place in the British Empire: John Benett-Stanford, a soldier turned war correspondent, shot footage of British troops in 1897, just before the Battle of Omdurman. This short and silent film was projected and sold in Britain under the title Alarming the Queen's Company of Grenadiers Guards at Omdurman. In 1912, the British colonial authorities made a documentary film of King George V's visit to the country, and screened it in an open-air theatre in Khartoum. During the early years of the 20th century, pioneering filmmakers travelled up the Nile from Cairo to Khartoum and beyond, shooting films for curious audiences at home, as in a documentary showing Lord Kitchener inspecting his troops in Khartoum.
Starting in the late 1920s, Greek businessmen, who had also been among the earliest photographers in Sudan, established cinemas for silent films in Khartoum. Other local businessmen later founded the Sudan Cinema Corporation, which opened cinemas in other cities and distributed imported films. The magazine El Fajr had weekly pages on science, literature and movies.
In her book "Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan" historian Heather J. Sharkey describes the influence of photographs and films through the British educational system:
Gordon College served as photography’s first point of transfer to Sudanese (as opposed to European) audiences. The college exposed students to a range of film media, including photographically illustrated books, snapshots and studio portraits, magic lanterns […] and narrative (cinematic) film. Because photographs and pictures enabled the boys and Old boys of Gordon College to see and hence to imagine the world, the British Empire, and the Sudan in new ways, visual culture was as important to the development of nationalism as the culture of words.— Heather J. Sharkey, Living with colonialism: nationalism and culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
Cinema from independence up to the 2010sEdit
When Sudan gained independence in 1956, the new authorities established the Sudan Film Unit to make short educational documentaries and newsreels, which were shown both in the cinemas of the major cities as well as on mobile cinema trucks. In the 1960s, more than 70 cinemas in Khartoum and other major cities showed mainly Indian, Egyptian, American or Italian films, but also news and commercials. Despite the growing number of people who could afford television sets, the popularity of "going to the movies" was considerable, as reflected by Cinema Cinema, a weekly film show on the government-owned Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation television channel that had started in 1962.
In an article about the rise and decline of cinema in the city of Wad Madani, the popularity of "going to the movies" was explained in terms of its importance for public cultural life, providing a "fresh breath of freedom in light of the country’s independence." For many urban dwellers, movie shows were the only public forms of entertainment at the time. This applied both to educated and less educated people, as well as to women and girls, who were admitted as families in the company of their male relatives.
The first feature-length film made in Sudan was Hopes and Dreams, directed in 1970 by Ibrahim Mallassy in black and white. After that, very few feature films were made, mainly due to lack of funding. Hussein Shariffe, a Sudanese painter, poet and lecturer at the Faculty of Arts of Khartoum University, became known as a filmmaker from the 70s onwards. In 1973, he was head of the film section in the Ministry of Culture and Information and directed his first film, The Throwing of Fire, a documentary about a ritual related to the power of fire, celebrated by the Ingessana tribe in the southern Blue Nile State. This new artistic experience prompted him to return to the United Kingdom to study film at the National Film and Television School. Until 1997, Shariffe made several documentaries, for example The Dislocation of Amber, a poetic documentary about the historic port of Suakin on the Red Sea, or Diary in Exile, an account of the life in exile of Sudanese in Egypt. In appreciation of Shariffe's artistic output, the Sudan Independent Film Festival, founded in 2014, is held annually on the anniversary of Shariffe's death.
The Sudanese filmmaker with the most widely ranging work of more than 100 documentaries and newsreels, Gadalla Gubara, also produced feature films, most notably the tribal love story Tajouj in 1979. His daughter, Sara Gadalla Gubara, who studied film making in Cairo as well as through training by her father, assisted him in his private film production company Studio Gad and became the first female filmmaker in Sudan. Sara’s film The Lover of Light (2004) is both a metaphor of Gadalla Gubara and of his interest in bringing social issues to light through filmmaking.
After the military coup of 1989, Sudan's Islamist government, however, suppressed cinema, as well as much of public cultural life. As a consequence, the Sudanese Cinema Company was dissolved and many government-owned movie theatres were neglected or sold off. The old Coliseum Cinema, for example, became part of Khartoum's riot police headquarters. Moving images from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s became extremely rare to be seen, and those in the National Archives were locked away and neglected. Up to the 2020s, there is no film archive accessible to the public, and even still images from these periods are scattered all over the country. These political restrictions, along with the rise of satellite TV and the Internet, led people to rather watch films in their homes and deprived Sudanese artists of public recognition, funding for the production or distribution of films, and, most of all, freedom of artistic expression.
Enjoying wider margins of expression, some filmmakers of Sudanese origin and living abroad could make independent films about their country, like British-Sudanese filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri. Her documentaries Our Beloved Sudan, All about Darfur, Orphanage of Mygoma or Mother Unknown explore both the complex society in Sudan as well as the film director's views as a member of the important Sudanese diaspora community.
Revival of cinema and movie production since the 2010sEdit
Aided by the introduction of digital film equipment, workshops for a new generation of filmmakers, independent funding and recognition at international festivals, the 2010s saw several successful initiatives to re-establish film activities in Sudan. In 2010, the Sudan Film Factory was founded as an independent association for networking and promoting cinema in and outside of the country, and in 2014 the Sudan Independent Film Festival started its annual editions of growing popularity.
In 2014, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, who lives both in Sudan and abroad, made an internationally acclaimed documentary film about the ongoing attacks of the Sudanese army on the people in the Nuba mountains. Kuka's film Beats of the Antonov provides an artistic collage about war, music, and local identity on Sudan's southern frontiers and could not be shown in Sudan under the government of the time. – In 2015, parts of the film archive of Gadalla Gubara were digitised by a German-Sudanese film restoration project, and thus his documentaries about everyday life in Khartoum of the 1960s, as well as his feature film Tajouj could be shown to new generations in Khartoum as well as abroad.
The 40-minute feature film Iman: Faith at the crossroads, directed and written by filmmaker Mia Bittar, was produced in 2016 with the support of UNDP Sudan and presented the same year at the headquarters of the UN in New York. It tells four stories of young Sudanese, who have been attracted by terrorism, and is based on true events.
In 2019, the documentary Talking about Trees by Suhaib Gasmelbari, a story about three Sudanese filmmakers of the 1960s and the decline of cinema in Sudan, won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and other international festivals.
The same year, the feature film You Will Die at Twenty by Amjad Abu Alala, a Sudanese filmmaker based in Dubai, won the 'Lion of the Future Award' at the Venice Days, an independent film festival section held in association with the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
A young female Sudanese filmmaker, who studied film direction in Egypt and Germany, is Marwa Zein. Her documentary Khartoum Offside tells the story of the first female soccer team in Khartoum. This film had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 and won awards at other international film festivals. In February and March 2021, and in the context of measures for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, the British Council in Khartoum and local sponsors organised a film festival for both European and Sudanese movies at an outdoor, drive-in cinema space, thus presenting film shows in a new way.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cinema in Sudan.|
- On Cultural Resistance, Sudanese cultural magazine Andariya about the Sudan Independent Film Festival (SIFF) 2015
- Backstage with Fuzzy Wuzzy: Reflections on the Representational Influences on Filming ''Our Beloved Sudan''
- Interview with Amjad Abu Alala & the Cast of 'You Will Die at Twenty' on YouTube
- Trailer for Khartoum Offside on Vimeo