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 group 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.
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 al-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.”
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.
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 — communists or Islamists — 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.