Khartoum — The cinema industry in Sudan witnessed remarkable accomplishments in the 1970s and 1980s during which a number of films won international awards. But this surge abated and the cinema sector suffered negligence and even the show houses number receded. Yet a number of Sudanese youths and activists have embarked on efforts for revival of the Sudan cinema industry, considering it as the most effective means for addressing the political and social issues.
SUDANOW conducted the following interview with Director Abbady Mahjoub, Secretary-General of the Sudanese Film-makers Association, to cast light on the status of the cinema industry in Sudan:-
SUDANOW:-What were the landmarks in the history of cinema in the Sudan?
Mahjoub:-Cinema entered the Sudan for the first time as a movie show in 1912 and the first film was on a visit by King George V en route from India. This film was shot in Port Sudan and was shown during the opening of the Khartoum-Kosti- El-Obeid railway line and thus the latter was the first Sudanese town to watch a movie-film. Moreover, there was the Khawajah (White Man) cinema which was built in Atbara in 1922. The Sudan continued as spectators until the inauguration of a movie hall frequented by khawajas, colonial officials and members of the foreign communities and run by Anton George and Anton Lucas. The Coliseum Cinema House was then opened in Khartoum in 1935 followed by Bramble House in Omdurman that continued for two years and when the Sudan began to frequent those houses in considerable numbers, the Sudanese businessmen realized that the cinema is a profitable business and decided to invest in it. Thus Sudanese businessmen Mohamed Ahmed al-Birair, Abul Ila, Abdul Mon'im Mohamed and Abdul Rahman al-Amin founded the Sudanese National Company, leading to the spread of the national cinema houses all over the country.
Q:-When was the actual cinema production by the Sudanese film-makers?
A:-The production during the early decades of colonization and the beginnings of the national rule focused on documentary, rather than narrative films. Most of the documentary films centered on the government activities and accomplishments without having any technical aspects. The documentary and awareness films and musical clips were produced at the time until the introduction of cinema industry by pioneers who studied the art in scholarships abroad arranged by the then British rulers before their departure.
In the 1970s there were successful Sudanese cinema attempts of production of short films which were appreciated in several international and regional festivals. The 1970s also saw the start of production of the narrative films with Jadallah Jubarah producing his "Tajuj" film in which he attempted to narrate the renowned legend on which he built a new cinematic form that conforms to the contemporary circumstances.
This was followed by Urs al-Zain (The Wedding of Zein) film, based on the work of Sudanese novelist Al-Tayeb Salih, exclusively played by Sudanese actors and actresses and directed and produced by Kuwaiti Director Khalid al-Siddig.
Q:-Why do you think did the long and short films of the 70s and 80s succeed?
A:- The cinema at that time was very popular while the State Cinema Corporation seriously supervised the production of the films as well as the show of those which it used to import. The Sudanese cinema made some achievements as represented by Al-Jamal (The Camel) directed by Ibrahim Shaddad that won the critics award at Cannes Festival in 1986 and Habil (Rope) film by the same director which won the gold trophy in Damascus Festival in 1987. "But the Earth Rotates" film by Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim earned the gold award of Moscow Festival in 1979 and Al-Dhareeh (The Tomb) by Director Tayeb Mahdi that gained the gold of Cairo short films festival in 1972. Tajuj film won several trophies in international and regional festivals in 1980.
The Sudanese cinema industry then waned under the bureaucracy, poor finance and negligence. The State Cinema Corporation became a sheer importer of Western, Indian and Arabic films, although numerous European delegations offered assistance to Sudan for production of movie films.
Q:- What role is your association playing for revival of the cinema industry in Sudan?
A:-The Association was founded in 1974 and is planning to organize a documentary film festival the first session of which will be held on 28 February, 2017, alternating between Khartoum and El-Obeid as the latter was first town to host the first film show in Sudan, and the neighboring countries will be invited to participate in the festival. The Association will also organize training courses during April and September of 2017 and the first festival for the narrative films.
Q:- What are the reasons for inability of the Sudanese cinema industry to flourish and compete in the region?
A:-The seizure of functioning of the State Cinema Corporation was the main reason behind the decline of this industry. Take Syria, as an example, which until recently had not put up any significant production but President Hafez Assad has worked for the establishment of Syrian cinema and drama by exempting companies engaged in this field from taxes and registration duties for 10 years. This resulted in the burgeoning and spread of the Syrian production in the region. Morocco has built a city for the cinema industry. Its studios and cities has been used as a backdrop for hundreds of Hollywood films. We therefore appeal upon the government to pay concern to the cinema production which can introduce the Sudan, its rich nature, heritage, history and human values to the world.
Q:- Why wouldn't the private sector invest in this field?
A:-The private sector is quiet distant from this concern because they fear competition by the imported films and the investors fear the likelihood of getting back their invested money and, moreover, they want a quick, guaranteed financial return. The attempts of products by private sector were limited.
Q:- To what extent can you say that the Sudanese (actor, technician, scenarist, director, cameraman, etc.) are capable of advancing the cinema industry in Sudan?
A:- There are numerous Sudanese individuals who have undergone training and studies on the cinema task in advanced countries, in addition the existence of youths who wish to join this field and to participate in relevant courses and workshops. All we need is to have assistance by investors and cinema-men for creating an environment conducive to the industry, in addition cutting down the imposed fees and taxes, creation of a body responsible for cinema production and rehabilitation and improvement of the cinema theatres to attract the spectators. The poor performance gets improved with more production. The production in the 70s and 80s was not more than 10 films and with individual efforts and the high production leads to a high standard. Take Egypt and India which, with their bulky production, have a great influence on the Arab, Asian and international viewers.
Q:- You have recently stressed on the importance of reopening the cinema theatres. Do you still advocate this call?
A:-The closure of the cinema theatres and opening watching clubs constitute a grave drawback for the society, considering the shows in those clubs (obscene films) which highly contributed to the recent rise of the moral crime. The world has switched to cinematic digital compounds and the theatres have become part of commercial compounds, something which makes the presentation easier. We need to switch to the cinematic compounds and install them inside the commercial compounds, in addition to inclusion of the cinema theatres in the urban and cultural planning for protecting the youths against alien cultures which do not respect the Islamic traditions and customs.
Q:- The diverse cultures and environments of the Sudan don't they provide a cinematic infrastructure that can be exploited in this field?
A:- The diverse environments in Sudan can be perfect scenes for the cinema industry that can be marketed globally. Late Director Jadallah Jubarah spoke about the possibility of marketing the Sudanese geographic environments to leading international cinema makers, like those of Hollywood to have scenes for shooting their films. The Sudan possesses diverse cultures and the international cinema is an important medium for disseminating cultures round the world and in this way the Sudan can have impression on the world, particularly through participation in the international and regional film festivals.
Q:- What suggestions that can lead to the progress of this sector?
A:- An independent State Cinema Corporation must be created to be concerned with the cinema production, a production archive must also be created to keep the history of the Sudanese cinema industry and the private sector must be involved in the process. We appeal upon the state to provide the Arab investors with chances of building housing compounds which contain film theatres and converting the old cinema theatres into commercial compounds which have become profitable worldwide. In India, the cinema has become a basic economic source, while the television drama of Cairo constitutes 38% of Egypt's economy.
Q:- What do you like to say in conclusion?
A:- I express my thanks to Sudanow for the interview and I wish the government officials would pay attention to the cinema sector, the cinema theatres reopen in a new form and the return of the old advertisement "where to spend the night" on the newspapers.