Sudan presents first-ever film for Oscars

Sudan presents the first-ever film for the Oscars

Cairo: 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.

“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.”

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 mystical strain of Islam.

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, “Gods 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. Then comes a turning point. As he turns 19, Muzamil takes it upon himself to decide what it means to be alive, even as death beckons.

The film has received positive reviews from international critics. “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.

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