Post-revolutionary Sudan film in the running for Oscars

Post-revolutionary Sudan film in the running for Oscars

Nearly two years after the overthrow of autocrat Omar al Bashir, Sudan is taking steps to rejoin the international community from which it was long shunned. That includes its film industry.

For the first time in its history, Sudan has a submission for the Academy Awards. Produced by a consortium of European and Egyptian companies but with a Sudanese director and cast, "You Will Die at Twenty" will compete in the Best International Feature Film category.

The story follows a young man whose death at the age of 20 is prophesied not long after his birth, casting a shadow over his formative years, and parallels the burdens placed on a generation of Sudan’s young people.

Based on a short story by Sudanese novelist Hammour Ziyada, critics say it demonstrates that the country’s cultural scene is reawakening after decades of oppression.

The film was produced amid mass demonstrations against Bashir, who was toppled by the military in April 2019 after ruling the country for nearly 30 years.

“It was an adventure,” filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala said. “There were protests in the streets that had grown to a revolution by the beginning of filming.”

Politics in cinema

Sudan’s uprising erupted in late 2018, and as the number of people in the streets swelled, many of them young, the military stepped in and toppled the president. Since then, the country has embarked on a fragile transition to democracy, ending years of theocratic rule that limited artists’ freedoms.

The film’s submission was announced in November by the country’s ministry of culture, a month before the second anniversary of the start of the uprising.

It follows a narrative written by Ziyada in the early 2000s that chronicles the life of a child in 1960s in a remote village, located between the Blue and White Nile rivers. The inhabitants are largely guided by ancient Sufi beliefs and traditions, a mysteries of Islam.

READ MORE: Sudan and major rebel group agree to restart peace talks

We're so proud to announce that #Sudan has entered the Academy Awards race for the first time with the selection of Amjad Abu Alala’s You Will Die at Twenty as the country’s first Best International Feature Film submission for the 2021 Academy Awards! #Oscars2021

Social taboos

The film starts when a mother, Sakina, takes her newborn boy to a Sufi ceremony at a nearby shrine as a blessing. As a sheikh gives his blessing, a man in traditional clothing performs a meditative dance, suddenly stopping after 20 turns, falling to the ground, a bad omen.

The frightened mother appeals to the Sheikh to give an explanation. But he says “God’s command is inevitable”. At this point, the crowd understands this is a prophecy predicting the child will die at 20.

Stunned and frustrated, the father leaves his wife and son, named Muzamil, to face their fate alone.

Muzamil grows up under the watchful eye of his overprotective mother, who wears black in anticipation of his early demise. He is haunted by the prophecy, even other children name him “the son of death.”

Despite that, Muzamil proves to be an inquisitive boy full of life. His mother allows him to go to study the Quran. He receives praise for his memorisation and recitation of verses. Then comes a turning point.

A cinematographer, Suliman, returns to the village after years working abroad. Muzamil, who is by now working as an assistant to the village shopkeeper, gets to know him through delivering him alcohol, a social taboo.

Suliman, who lives with a prostitute, opens Muzamil’s eyes to the outside world. Through their discussions, he starts to doubt the prophecy that has governed his life so far and torn his family apart.

As he turns 19, Muzamil takes it upon himself to decide what it means to be alive, even as death beckons.

International praises

The film has received positive reviews from international critics. It premiered at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival’s parallel section, Venice Days. It won the Lion of the Future for Best First Feature, the first Sudanese film to do so. Since then, it has won at least two dozen awards at film festivals worldwide.

Filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala blames the environment created by Bashir, who came to power in a military coup in 1989. Under his rule, limited personal freedoms meant art was viewed with suspicion by many.

One major challenge, he said, was that local residents at the initial filming location objected to their presence. The crew was forced to move, but they persevered.

“We believed that it should be done under any circumstances,” Abu Alala said. He says that it was lucky that the film’s production period coincided with the cultural watershed moment of the uprising. The previous government wouldn't have been a proponent of his work.

#Youwilldieat20 is nominated in the Best International CoProduction category at the Lumieres Awards! #PrixLumieres

The movie has also been met with commendations from inside the region.

“It is a very real and local film that makes the audience feel all of its details whenever and whoever they are," wrote Egyptian film critic Tarik el Shenawy.

The film is only the eighth to be made inside Sudan. Abu Alala says that its selection shows Sudan has countless stories that remain untold.

“There wasn’t a film industry existing in Sudan, only individual attempts ... Sudan’s rulers ..., were not interested in cinema. They just were interested in having artists on their sides,” he said.

Now, he hopes that he and other filmmakers will have the freedom to share Sudan’s stories with the world.

The last notes - Культура

most read news


Angelina Jolie's survival action thriller "Those Who Wish Me Dead" didn't do much to revive the North American box office. The Warner Bros. film, which debuted simultaneously on the streaming service

Pop star Ariana Grande has married her luxury real estate agent fiance Dalton Gomez at her home in Los Angeles, US media reported."It was tiny and intimate – less than 20 people. The room was so happy

The military style jacket that Janet Jackson wore during her 1990 Rhythm Nation tour has sold for $81,250 at a Beverly Hills auction, more than 20 times its pre-sale estimate.The Rhythm Nation cropped

The Weeknd was the big winner at the annual Billboard Music Awards with 10 wins, while Drake extended his record as the most decorated winner.Pink twirled in the air in a powerful performance on

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, Riz Ahmed, Dua Lipa, Andra Day and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson all have won honours at the Webby Awards, which recognise the best internet content and

Another classic piece of internet culture has been auctioned off for a six-figure sum, the latest viral sensation from the 2000s to be eagerly snapped up by digital collectors of "non fungible tokens"

Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest with rockers Maneskin stealing the show in Rotterdam as the tournament returned from a year off due to coronavirus.Clad in leather lederhosen and eyeliner, the

Triggered by Israeli violence on Palestinians since the very beginning of protests over Sheikh Jarrah evictions, an Egyptian mother of two has made a song about the history of Palestine.The 98-second

The newly formed Podcast Academy this weekend hands out its first awards, the Ambies, for the best in a booming industry that has room for everyone from Prince Harry and Kim Kardashian to a student

US actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson must stand trial for the alleged rape of three women at his home in the Hollywood Hills, a Los Angeles judge ruled."That '70s Show" star Masterson denies the

Ai-Da is “the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist” who is able to draw and paint, and she is having an exhibition at London’s Design Museum until August 31, 2021. The Design Museum poses the

Coming of age in the Brazilian favela of Vigario Geral, Luiz Augusto Jr used to spend his money playing video games.Now, he makes a living as a gamer.Augusto, 23, was working in construction as a

The 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennial) finally opened its doors to the public on Saturday, May 22, 2021, having been twice postponed because of

A BBC journalist used deceit to win a sensational 1995 interview with Princess Diana in which she disclosed intimate details of her failed marriage to Prince Charles, and the broadcaster covered up

A disused London police station has opened up its old detention cells to visitors as it reinvents itself as a museum, the latest addition to the British capital's varied cultural offerings.Bow Street

From "Smelly Cat" to whether Rachel and Ross were "on a break," the "Friends" reunion takes fans of the hit TV comedy series on a sentimental journey down memory lane."Friends: The Reunion" brings

The 568th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul has been celebrated with a visual show across the Turkish metropolis.Turkey's Communications Directorate organised a visual feast in cooperation with

B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on the pop, country and gospel charts with such hits as “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and “Hooked on a