Filmmaking in Sudan

Talking About Trees is a moving documentary about four older Sudanese filmmakers, Ibrahim Shaddad, Manar Al Hilo, Suliman Elnour and Eltayeb Mahdi. The film focuses on the project of the men to revive the Revolution Cinema, an old cinema in Khartoum. But their plans to renovate the dilapidated outdoor cinema come up against bureaucracy and lack of cash.

By observing these four men together, the film shows their friendship, based on their love for cinema, their shared experiences of persecution and exile, and the dreams they have of a Sudan in which art and intellectual thought can be free. At the same time, this is a film about an almost forgotten part of film history of Sudan; it is also a political film. Filmmaker Suhaib Gasmelbari in an interview in Variety (Feb. 2019): ‘Of course! It is dedicated to these four people who have borne the weight and the difficulties of an oppressive State […]. I didn’t want to make a film about the situation in Sudan, but to reveal it by little touches in showing its Kafkaesque aspects.’

Sudanese Film Group
In the 1960s, Shaddad, Al Hilo, Elnour and Mahdi belonged to the first Sudanese generation who studied cinema in film institutes in East Germany, Egypt and the Soviet Union. Their return to Sudan in the 1970s marked the beginning of independent filmmaking in the country. In 1989 they founded the Sudanese Film Group (SFG).

State control
But film production remained focused on official and educational purposes, controlled by the State. The filmmakers had to struggle to acquire the necessary funds and to circumvent censorship. Some films were never seen by Sudanese audiences. After the Islamist-backed coup d’état in 1989, the marginalisation of these filmmakers was complete. Their projects were stopped and their works became unavailable and almost disappeared. The revolution of 2019 gave the SFG new hopes to re-open the cinemas in the country.

Films restored
Talking About Trees contains some extracts of the films made by these directors. Through the efforts of Suhaib Gasmelbari and others, Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art (based in Berlin) decided to digitally restore six films by Elnour, Mahdi and Shaddad. The ASCL Library acquired the files of these films and they can be borrowed as three separate DVDs. Click on the links below for more information on the films:

Suliman Elnour (b. 1947)
Afrika, dzungli, baraban i revoljucija = Africa, the jungle, drums and revolution ; Wa lakin alardh tadur = It still rotates

Eltayeb Mahdi (b. 1951)
Al Dhareeh = The tomb ; Abba'a Marat Lil-Atfal = Four times for children ; Al Mahatta = The station

Ibrahim Shaddad (b. 1945)
Jagdpartie = Hunting party ; Jamal =A camel ; Al habil = The rope

For more information on the films, the filmmakers and the restoration project, see the booklet (pdf): Sudanese Film Group : Films by Suliman Elnour, Eltayeb Mahdi & Ibrahim Shaddad / editors: Nathalie Knoll, Markus Ruff. Berlin : Arsenal, Institute for Film and Video Art, [2019].


Elvire Eijkman