For the first time in its history, Sudan has entered a submission for an Academy Award, submitting “You will die at 20,” a film by Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala.

This historic entry is symbolic of the north African country’s foray into the international scene as the country pulls out from under the shadow of dictator Omar al-Bashir who was ousted from power two years ago.

The U.S. removed Sudan from its list of state sponsor of terror as part of the recent normalization deal that Washington brokered between Sudan and Israel in October. This agreement makes it easier for international companies to do local business and create new opportunities for the people of Sudan, including film directors like Abu Alala.

“You will die at 20” will compete in the Academy Awards Best International Feature Film category. In 2019, Abu Alala’s film won Best Debut Feature at the Venice Film Festival.

Despite being produced by Egyptian and European companies, the movie is unmistakably Sudanese with a Sudanese director and cast. It is based on a short story by Sudanese author Hammour Ziyada.

At the center of the story is a young man, Muzamil, whose death at the age of 20 is prophesied shortly after his birth. The movie aims to capture the struggles of the young generations in Sudan and their dreams of freedom and a better future.

The movie was produced during the turbulent mass demonstrations against Sudanese autocratic ruler al-Bashir, who was toppled in a military coup in April 2019. During much of al-Bashir’s nearly 30-year rule, the country was isolated in the world.

“It was an adventure. There were protests in the streets that had grown to a revolution by the beginning of filming”, Abu Alala told The Associated Press.

 

Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala (Photo: Facebook

 

During the production of the film, Alala and his team encountered numerous challenges and obstacles in Sudan’s conservative society. Abu Alala said that al-Bashir’s Islamic rule limited personal freedoms and, as a result, many Sudanese still view art with suspicion. The film crew was forced to move from the initial filming location after local residents objected to their presence. However, the team persevered and refused to give up.

“We believed that it should be done under any circumstances,” Abu Alala said.

Regional film critics have noted the film captures the authenticity of Sudanese society.

“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 movie is only the eighth to be produced inside Sudan, a country with virtually no existing movie industry tradition.

“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,” Abu Alala said.

With new political winds sweeping across Sudan, Abu Alala hopes that he and other local filmmakers will have a wider platform to share Sudan’s untold stories with a global audience.

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