Hibiscus with Ginger

Cinema in Sudan

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It’s been my first Eid back in the West, and I’ve been a bit nostalgic—no one was around to invite me for grilled meat and sharbot. I compensated by making some Sudanese food (more on that soon!), but that hardly sufficed, so I’ve started watching movies about Sudan.

I just finished Cinema in Sudan: Conversations with Gadalla Gubara, a documentary by Frederique Cifuentes. Gubara was one of the first filmmakers in Sudan. He began his work with the Sudanese government in the 1940s shooting newsreel, and went on to found his own studio and produce feature length films. You can read more about his life in this great piece by Omar Zaki that expands on some of the political struggles that were only briefly mentioned in the film.

Most of the documentary consists of Gubara telling his story, sometimes with the help of colleagues and relatives. We hear from Huda, a woman who wore the national flag on camera at Sudan’s independence day ceremony, and we learn about Gubara’s later work with his daughter, who is also a filmmaker.

It’s striking how basic yet costly filmmaking equipment was at that time. Gubara recounts how he even had to sell his wife’s jewelry to afford a camera and a studio. The reams of film that Gad studio has stacked on its shelves seem both valuable and antiquated—one sees that much was sacrificed for them and that filmmakers were working with very little and seeking to create quite a lot.

We also see lovely footage of Sudan both in the past and the present. There are reels from the Sudan of Gubara’s youth—independence, rallies, speeches, as well as clubs and private celebrations. There are also great scenes from Gubara’s family life—Gubara plays with his grandchildren and eats with his family. Often, the narration is dubbed over images of him napping or spending time with those loved ones who surround him.

The film takes on a particular significance when we look at the present. As Gubara notes, cinemas in Sudan are few and rarely show Sudanese films. At the same time, there are some great initiatives and projects going on today. Taghreed Sanhouri, a Sudanese filmmaker who lives in London, has produced a number of interesting documentaries, most recently Our Beloved Sudan. Sudan Film Factory, a program started by the Goethe Institute, has worked with young Sudanese filmmakers, providing them resources and training that has prompted some innovative and exciting short films. With technology becoming cheaper, lots of amateurs are also trying their hands with the medium—the barriers of equipment cost no longer limit Sudanese filmmakers the way they did in the past. It feels important to get a sense of where this all started in Sudan and whose steps today’s artists are following.

Update: You can find another great article about Gubara here.


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