Shaddad is a filmmaker, although along with peers Suliman Ibrahim, Eltayeb Mahdi and Manar Al-Hilo, they’ve not made a film for some time. That’s because not only has very little cinema come out of Sudan in the last few decades, but there are no working movie theaters in the country. During a radio interview, the question is asked why cinema died in Sudan; the answer, of course, is politics, and while Gasmelbari doesn’t shy away from placing blame on the dictatorships and their opportunistic use of Islam as a means of control, his documentary is less focused outright on politics and more directed at the determination of these four men to rekindle the experience of cinemagoing in their homeland.
As they embark on the difficult process of reinstating the cinema, they also reenact beloved scenes from famous films and recall their favourite quotes from filmmakers they admire.
They play Hollywood starlets and auteurs or hold their hands up in the air as if peering through a lens. The documentary also intersperses clips from the subjects’ own films, which have been long forgotten in a country that refuses to cultivate their creative freedom.
The political aspect of this film plays out in the not-so-distant background. As the men busy themselves with reestablishing the theatre, they sometimes speak of the 1989 coup and revolutions as a thing of the past while noting the ways in which these politics seep into their present. The men surround themselves in all things cinema, creating a world in which external events creep in to gnaw at the edges of their rose-tinted daydreams. Their film archive becomes a place of both creative refuge and self-imposed exile.