History of Cinema in SOMALIA

Historical overview

In May of 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland that now includes the administrative regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of a ruling clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs. The regions of Bari and Nugaal and northern Mudug comprise a neighboring self-declared autonomous state of Puntland, which has been self-governing since 1998, but does not aim at independence.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

During the forties and the fifties Somali actors and film technicians cooperated with Italian crews producing Fascist films in Somalia like "Dub aad" & "Soldiers of Bronze". From the late twenties to independence newsreels were shot of key events involving Italians.

The Somali film industry exists since Independence on July 1960. A steady growing number of production and distribution companies as well as actual cinema's were in private ownership form. After the revolution of 1969, the production, importation and distribution of films became completely monopolized by the government. Privately owned cinema's were replaced by State owned cinema's.

In 1963 Hajji Cagakombe made independently and in collaboration with an Italian Film Company the film "MIYI IYO MAGAALO" (The Countryside and the City) which is considered the first Somali full feature film. In fact it is one of the very first full feature productions made in Sub Saharan Africa post Independence.

Somali filmmakers where actively involved in establishing FEPACI the "Federation Pan-Africaine des Cineaste" or "Pan African Federation of Filmmakers". The organization started out in 1966 with Hajji Cagacombe as the somali representative. After independence the government established a Film Unit within the Ministry of Information. The Unit produced photography and film newsreels on a weekly and monthly basis. These newsreels where exhibited in the 120 cinema halls across Somalia before the main attraction. The newsreels where processed mostly in Egypt until 1968.

After the revolution of 1969 an autonomous department named Somali Film Agency was created, mandating production and distribution of newsreels, but also to make documentaries and feature films. Among the other mandates of the Agency were the importation and sale of all Audio visuals equipments, importation of foreign films and its distribution within the country. Most were imported from Egypt, USSR, G.D.R. (former East Germany), and Italy (dubbed in Italian). The Somali Film Agency also established a relationship with British company named British Films LTD to facilitate the processing and post production of the films.

The new generation of camera operators, directors of photography, film editors, sound engineers and film directors where trained in Egypt, Federal Republic of Germany, G.D.R., U.S.S.R., India, Italy & UK. Amongst the renowned directors and directors of photography of short features and docs where: Abdi Ali Geedi, Hassan Mohamed Osman, Ibrahim Awad, Ibrahim "Cunshur", Fuad Abdulaziz, Cumar Cabdalla,Mohamed Fiqi, Muxiyadiin Qaliif and many others. Between 1970 and 1982 over 30 short features and feature documentaries were produced as well as newsreels, made in a weekly and monthly basis named: "Somaaliya oo Sawir ah" meaning "Somalia in the picture".
The second full feature film premiered in 1973 and was made co production with an Italian company, named: "Dan Iyo Xarrago" or "Necessity and extravagance" by Idiriss Hassan Dirie, the film was processed at the labs of Technicolor in Rome.

In 1983 the third feature film named "The Somali Dervish" picturing the story of the Somali hero Mohammed Abdullah Hassan nicknamed by the British "MAD MULLAH". The film was made in collaboration with an Indian film company written and directed by Said Saalah. The first short feature film shot in video was named "CIYAAR MOOD" translating to "It is not a Joke" in 1986 by Abdurrahman Yusuf Cartan. This was followed by several famous independent Somali Theatre Plays transposed to films shot on video directed by Muxiyadiin Qaliif Cabdi, and various other young Somali directors.

The creation of the Somali TV in the 80's contributed enormously in the rebirth and growth of independent production of Somali films shot on video. They reached a level to cover the entire local market, introducing video projection and shifting from the traditional film projection into the cinema's, and as a consequence the reduction of importation of foreign films into the country.

In 1998 the Hollywood Blockbuster "Black Hawk Down" was filmed in Mogudishi, Somalia's tortured capital. The story, claimed to be based on a true story, shows the rescue mission of a helicopter down in the centre of the city. The Somali's are mostly depicted as somewhat backward vicious killers, which triggered a lot of critique by human right watchers.

In recent years "Fire Eyes" by Soraya Mire has stirred excitement due to the sensitive content of the documentary. Female genital mutilation, an ancient coming-of-age custom that affects 80 million women , mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, has recently come under close scrutiny and criticism.

Meanwhile UN Agencies and NGO's especially UNICEF used extensively video tools to spread their messages, and in consequence several feature films have been made, one of the famous ones is "Cilmi iyo Caado" or "Knowledge and tradition". Currently Somali filmmakers keep their active role in the arena of filmmaking in Africa, they created in 1983 in collaboration with FEPACI and the cultural department of the OAU, the biannual event in Mogadishu named Mogpaafis (Mogadishu Pan African and Arab Film Symposium).

Another important aspect of the Somali filmmakers activity became apparent after the civil war broke out. Most of the technicians and directors fled the country and are at present scattered around the globe. This does not prevent them to record the Somali life. Today some of the filmmakers that have not fled the country are still recording and making feature films and documentaries in video. The film industry in a strange and bizarre way is striving, making feature films, short features, documentaries or video clips for Somali songs. Also private owned Television companies are operating in Somalia, dubbing foreign films (mostly Hindi films) into Somali.

In the near future a new breed of Somali filmmakers born and living abroad will surface to enrich, continue and revive the tradition of Somali cinema

This text was kindly provided by Abdulkadir Ahmed Said, an award winning Somali filmmaker.

Watchmovies is proud to present a small professional biography of Abdulkadir Ahmed Said in his own words:

My film making as a director started in the period of 1980 as assistant film directors to various foreign productions shot in Somalia. In 1987 I directed the short feature named "Geedka Nolosha" translates to "Tree of Life", and then in 1990 I also made "Aleel" translates to "Sea shell".

I was one of the managers of the Somali Theatre when the productions were shot on video (1982-1983). As head of programming for Somali TV (1984-1986) I played a catalysing and guiding role for the development of Somali video production. After making my multi award winning short feature film 'Geedka Nolosha' (Tree of Life) in 1987 I then played a managerial role responsible for international relations in the Somali film Agency in the years (88-90) during which time we negotiated the international co-production agreements mentioned above. Also, together with Prof Hussein Mohammed Aden (Tanzania), I played a founding role in MOGPAAFIS and was subsequently elected as the East Africa REGIONAL SECRETARY in the Executive of the FEPACI from 1988 till 1992.

I am at the present in South Africa and still working and teaching. I made as a DOP and co-producer a documentary in Zanzibar in 1998 named "The Legacy of Siti", then in 2003 Co-produced and co- directed a 4 part feature series on African music named :"Rhythms from Africa" with a South African company named Tomas Films, in Zanzibar and South Africa. I have in development at the moment 3 Feature films.

Cinema links from SOMALIA

Dalka Online The official government online newspaper
Horn Afrik Online portal and newspaper offering an extensive Somalia section
Somalia Talk Newsgroups discussing every aspect of Somalian life and culture

Fire Eyes

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