History of Cinema in SUDAN

Historical overview

Sudan gained independence from the UK in 1956. Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war for all but 10 years of this period (1972-82). Since 1983, the war and war- and famine-related effects have led to more than 2 million deaths and over 4 million people displaced. The ruling regime is a mixture of military elite and an Islamist party that came to power in a 1989 coup. Some northern opposition parties have made common cause with the southern rebels and entered the war as a part of an anti-government alliance. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-03 with the signing of several accords, including a cease-fire agreement.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

As early as 1928 in make-shift open-air cinema houses silent films,such as the Charlie Chaplin comedies were shown in Sudan. During the early 30s, however, the number of cinema theatres constructed for the purpose of showing sound films were only 4 in the major Sudan towns, the number gradually increased to 9 in the second half of the thirties.

The aftermath of the second world war brought about a spontaneous national cry for the up-ranking of Sudanese status quo in all fields of endeavour and as a result cinema investment was heightened and eventually a film infrastructure arose consisting of a cinema company owned by public shares for the importation, distribution and exhibition of motion-pictures. The company built and owned a number of cinema theatres either on its own or in partnership with local co-operative societies, thereby increasing the number of cinema to 14 and consequently increasing the number of spectators. The exhibited films were American-made features with Arabic sub-titles and Arabic films from Cairo.

In late 1949, the Sudan government recruited a South African with his 16 mm film equipment to establish a cinema photographic section of the department of Public Relations. He was assisted by two young Sudanese namely Kamal Mohammed Ibrahim as scriptwriter and Gadalla Gubara as assistant cinema photographer under training. The two Sudanese eventually received comprehensive film training abroad under the supervision of the British Colonial film unit in London. Gadalla, after some studies in California and in spite of the economic difficulties of Sudan, produced and directed the first full feature fiction film; "Tagoog" (1982), a history of love and death in hills near the mythical Red Sea.

Another director is Hussein Shariffe whose "The Throwing of Fire" received critical acclaim when it was released in 1973. It was a short, straightforward documentary about a remote tribal people and their time-honoured traditions. His films "The Dislocation of Amber" (1975) which was shot in Suakin, Sudan's ancient slave port on the Red Sea, addressed slavery. In 1979 he released "Tigers are Better Looking", an adaptation of a short story by Jean Rhys.

Arthur Howes, directed in 1989, "Kafi's Story" captures Nuba life at the moment before it was engulfed in the Sudanese civil war. Kafi narrates his own story into a portable tape record as he travels from his village, Torogi, to Khartoum. Ten years after shooting "Kafi's story" Howes returned to the Sudan to find the members of the Nuba tribe who featured in his film. He managed to find several of them back, and their testimonies are, without exception, revealing. The results, a follow up on "Kafi's Story" is called "Nuba Conversations".

The primary function of the cinema section which was called Sudan Film Unit was to produce short documentaries to support the adult education programme (mobile cinema) designed for the benefit of the Sudanese cotton Farmers, the then country's major bread and butter winner. With the passage of time, however, the number of mobile cinema vans increased and showings of films were given of either locally produced documentaries or imported Arabic films intended to serve as instructional films on health, agriculture, etc. It is worth noting that some of the locally-produced documentaries received prizes and recognition in regional film festivals as over the years, a number of young film aspirants were sent for training in filmmaking in Egypt, UK, and USA.

Filmmaking in the Sudan as well as exhibition is governed by regulations set out by the cinematograph Board and its censorship committee under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Information. During the past few decades, there were few film producers from abroad shooting exteriors for their productions in the Sudan, notably Korda's London Films re-making " The Four Feathers" under a new title " Storm over the Nile'. Importation of feature films for exhibition was for sometime monopolized by the State Corporation for cinema, which distributed films on percentage basis to cinema houses. The corporation has since been dissolved and importation in now open to all interested parties involved in film exhibition. Despite the colourful and successful beginning of film production in the short documentary field, cinema as an industry in the Sudan has lagged far behind all the audio-visual mass media. For the past 15 years or so, there have been only 3 feature Sudanese films that, regrettably, failed to achieve worth-while material or artistic laurels, though only received passing encouraging comments. Plans for a humble film industry to emerge and develop exist in heads of few enthusiasts but as usual these are hampered by lack of funds for the procurement of raw stock and equipment as well as the narrow marketing outlet. The number of commercial cinemas in the Sudan today, is 68, some of which operate only seasonally. Sudanese spectators today view Karate and Indian-made films and occasionally action-packed American films. There is not a single mobile van on the road today owned or operated publicly or privately.

In 1993, the minister of culture and information issued a ministerial order to suspend the Sudan Cinema Corporation, a distributor of movies all over the country. The corporation was equally a producer of Sudanese movies. The "Al-Neel wa Al-Difaf" [The Nile and the Banks] directed by Ibrahim Shaddad, "Al-Buqa" [The Spot] directed by Abdel-Rahman Al-Nujomi, Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim, and Ibrahim Shaddad as a three movie series were in the process of production .The suspension of these movies underlined the minister's decision to suspend the whole corporation. In the meantime, the goverment tried to establish a private corporation to replace the state corporation for profit-making. In 1994 Ibrahim Shaddad directed the short Insan, the film tells the story of a prosperous cattle herder from the Western Sudan who, during the drought of the early 1980s, looses his wife, children and cattle. This short was shown on several Arab film festivals but without much acclaim.

These days the development of the Sudanese film industry is still pending the outcomes of the civil war. The State still monopolizes the cinematic landscape, mainly to ensure censorship die to the implementation of the Islamic Sharia in the late Eighties. The vast number of refugees, the recurring famine and the political instability of this beautiful country will probably one day function as a story board for films to come. But at the beginning of the new century Sudan still has to deal with these realities instead of imagening these historic and terrible events. The most significant cinematic event in the Sudan during the last few yars, was the death of Leni Riefenstahl, the (in)famous German director.

Cinema links from SUDAN

Nuba Survival Site dedicated to people of the Nuba tribes, includes a film section
Sudan government Government site of Suda, holds no cinematic information

Hussein Shariffe


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