Wrote by: Nuran Atef
TRANSLATED BY: Ahmed Hussain
A few days ago, the movie “You Will Die in the Twentieth” won the Golden “Tanit” from the Carthage Film Festival, so that it will be added to the list of rewards and honors that the film received from its premiere at the Venice Film Festival until now.
The film is based on the A series of stories “Sleeping at the feet of the mountain” by Sudanese writer Hamor Ziyada, and tells the story of “Muzammil” a young man living in a Sudanese village following Sufi ideas. And he lived through the prophecy that he would die when he is twenty years old, the film presents the days of anticipation in which the young man will live, as he meets a cinematographer with the development of the story’s events.
We spoke with Sudanese director Amjad Abu Al Ala about his experience with the movie, choosing the story, the difficulties of co-production, and his dreams for the future, and these were his answers.
1- We start from the beginning. How was the story chosen? Was your choice of Sudanese literature and Hamar Ziyada intended?
The story was chosen by me, as I was traveling from Dubai to Khartoum, after hearing the about the death of my grandmother and I was on my way to attribute, and I was with my cousin in case of collapse and crying. I read the story, I was entertaining because I did not want to think a lot, the state of sadness that I had with the idea of the story that is talking about how the Sudanese are dealing with this sadness and the way in which they exaggerate it like screaming and wailing, I felt that they met together and felt that I wanted to talk about this. I already had a similar experience when my aunt passed away and I stayed 6 months without speaking.
So Hamar Ziyada isn’t the topic, but for me the topic is Sudanese literature in general, there is always something on my mind that transferred those images a movie. It coincides that “sleeping at the feet of the mountain” is something that touched me at a certain moment, and “Hamor” from people who I love their writings very much, as I love writing Abdel Aziz Baraka and other Sudanese Sudanese writers.
2- What are the most important needs you were interested in?
I talked in the last question about sadness, but the film’s narration was talking about a mystical prophecy and the relationship of the Sudanese people to Sufi life itself. I generally love literature and Sufi arts. As for the way the Sudanese deal with is a second issue, let us say not all Sudanese, And if this is present in the cities, but the village is the ideal model for this, I wanted to talk about the relationship of religion to the individuals and society, and vice versa, and what is possible in the name of religion are many things that are imposed.
3- The film is a co-production, which is known to be easy. Tell us about the journey to search for production.
The journey of implementing the film took two years and it is not in its production, no. The idea that you decide from the first is making a joint production film. It is not an easy decision, and there was no alternative to it because we talked about cinema in Sudan, and it stopped for 20 years because there was no production, so I was always asking people are how do you produce?
With my presence in the middle and at the festivals always as cinematography I saw that the solution is co-production.
It took a long time and work, I used to see you at the time, as we were working like a beggar, but wearing Tuxedo! But this is co-production, and I, in the end, do not mind, why not? The journey took long, but we were deciding the level of the film, and we are collecting money, it is not a high budget condition, but a high quality, we want it to come out.
4- What were the most important difficulties in the implementation of the film until it reached its first screen?
The implementation of the film wasn’t only collecting money, but you also transfer that money to the country We were photographed in the stage of the economic collapse in Sudan, which led to the Sudanese revolution taking place, the budget is constantly changing because the currency is changing, we started when the dollar was 8 pounds and when we filmed it was 62 Sudanese pounds!
In the same context, the timing was very difficult, and the government was suspicious of any foreigners who came from abroad , but it helped us that the focus was on Khartoum and we shot the film away from it . I mean, we can say that the revolution “redeemed us” … and I did not mean benefit, but its redemption was with its spirit!
On the other hand, we took advantage of a loophole that there is no a cinema industry, so we take permits, people don’t know what to do! There is no censorship, for example, not because it is a free country, but because it does not have a cinema, there were many difficulties that I am tired of telling, and there were cold scenes, especially in Sudan, and the important thing is that the film works in the other.
5- The cinema industry in Sudan has been suspended for years how was Film crew collection.
You speak in a country where there is no cinema, so there are no actors, you will either get new faces or choose from those who are already there, and whoever is excellent in the theater or television, cinema has a different language. The job lasted for a year and a half for everything so that there is harmony between the new and the one who has a representation style that works on it Because we didn’t want this to be seen on the camera.
At last I used the help of Madame Salwa Mohamed Ali, my friend and my beloved big actress, and Professor Mahmoud Hamida Brdo Jah and helped me in Sudan with people and actors, even if it was a very small time, a week out of a year and a half, but this was two weeks before filming and it helped people to act with confidence in themselves.
6- Was it difficult for you to find someone who would present the character of the hero like you would imagine?
I think the most characters that were puzzling me, how can I find the person who works on them is “lazy” because the role had great challenges in it, I wanted someone who believes in the character and feels it, believes that it believes in death, and that it is easily possible that someone changes her brain to another direction, and understands her contradictions, he is the son A religious and strict village, but this is not a necessary that the actor is Also like that, stringent in the Sufi villages, is different from the its common meaning.
His shape had to be rural, but he could work in Khartoum, and he would accept bold scenes like what is in the movie. I was very, very fortunate at the moment that Mostafa Shehata entered Casting, a talented young man with a strange feeling that we didn’t have trouble until we thought of “Racor” from 3 days like a cinema professional!
Assistant director Abdel Wahab Ahmed Shawky was saying “He is able to think every detail of his body, even if it is a week from the beginning of the scene!” And once I was laughing when he that it was possible for a doctor so he used to study the body! In general, he was very relaxed with work, and he is a beloved, who continues to represent medicine and works in Egypt. I see his Pharaonic features and his Saedi origin helps him in this.
7- The magazine “Hollywood Reporter” accused the movie’s hero of negativity, and the film itself contains very beautiful dream-like scenes, and other cruel scenes that are difficult to accept both in one movie … what do you think of this?
The magazine actually wrote this and the “Variety” magazine replied to it on the character’s hero part. The movie is based on a character who does nothing because he is being ordered, not have a choice, except when there was a moment when he decided to do something!
The writer may be inclined to classic cinema and the idea of the hero, the beginning, the middle, and the end. This goal was not the pure goal at least with this character, and on the other hand there are people who have sympathized with the “muzammil” to the extent of crying, but the concept that there are people who is not able to sympathize with ignorance, and that happened with the hero Ignorance and I understand that an American does not sympathize with him.
The Part that it has semi-dream scenes and scenes that are cruel . both in one movie, the truth is that it was accepted by many people! But, as you said, this journalist is a classic from the people who see that a tough movie is “Tarantino”, a dreamer movie is Tarkovsky, so don’t you confuse the world, man! Of course, with my full respect for him, I like classic cinema and love to see the whole movie with one soul, but we love to get into new experiences.
Am so proud with the mixture I made between cruelty and dreaming, because this life in general and the life of the hero in particular, a dream with some cruelty, soft colors and harsh colors, even the music was mostly harsh, but what came out of the movie’s atmosphere, from the radio For example, soft … this is the game of life!
8- Is it possible to make a movie outside Sudan?
Can I present a movie in Sudan, but I want my next movie to be Sudanese again, I want to try a new thing that is more modern. I can do an Iraqi or African movie, I don’t have a problem it’s a matter of the good story, but by virtue of my relationship with Egypt and the Egyptian cinema I was raised with, I am very eager I at least make a movie in Egypt, in which actors I personally love do the job, and inform them of how I saw them. There is something in the Egyptian cinema that used to have and now not, such as “mummies” and “my wife and dog” for example, and there is Europe in terms of photography there.
9- Did you ment that the first movie of you was Sudanese, and it was not by chance?
I have lived my life outside the Sudan, I have not lived except for 5 years from the age of 11 to 16 years in sudan, and I was very different because it was a person shaping period, but my relationship with Sudan stayed distant all the time, that’s why I insisted that the first movie of mine was Sudanese, not Emirati not Egyptian.
10- Can you do a movie about the Sudanese revolution?
Oh, about the revolution or before the revolution, the days before the revolution, I am my longevity living in Dubai, but the two years that I spent in Sudan and I was preparing the film I was able to see the lives of young people more, so I think “Khartoum dogs” project that was in my mind came back because of The revolution, and I think that it will be in my brain for some time, so I can do it next time.
11- As for you, did you see the movie in its first screening on cinema? Did you see that there was anything that was supposed to work differently?
The first time on a cinema screen was at the Venice Film Festival. When the movie ended the audience was standing 12 minutes. I didn’t know what to do, and where to go, and where I came from. After that, the producers and I left and I said things like We could do so in the sound or the scene they told me you are crazy, did you not see how people were clapping?!
When I watched the movie, 98% of what was in my brain happened. That 2% bothered me, but it is possible that there will be a motivation for a new movie and for a second experiment. I am happy with the result, but this does not prevent those perfectionists to talk
12- What was the most cinematic reaction you were caught in?
It was not a specific reaction that affected me. but critics I knew they are sharp and tough, but they all met on the film, speaking about people like Amir Al-Omari, Ahmed Shawqi, Tariq Al-Shinnawi, many people and different people agreed in their words on the film, but I think more. A moment I was proud of, when the prince of Costa Rica said on the stage: “If I am the lion of the past, I want to give my blessings to who I see it as an extension of my future lion, amgad Abu Al-Ala.” Indeed that’s something I wouldn’t forget, especially since he decided to invite me to a festival in his village and he said more than that.
Among the things I will not forget the response of the Sudanese fans in “Toronto” to the point that the festival was forced to make for the first time in its history, a fourth show to satisfy the 120 individuals who had made a demonstration in front of the cinema because they had come from different countries to see the movie and there was no tickets, and more importantly, After the show, they celebrated the film as if it was a celebration of Sudan, which has turned from the Islamic military to a civilian state, and the chants that indicate their feeling that this is the result of the blood flowing in the streets and that the new Sudan that we want.
13- The most movie play you’ve been waiting for and did the reaction really made a difference to you?
Even since the editing phase I was waiting for “Toronto”, “Venice”, “El Gouna”, and “Carthage”, I was very happy with Toronto because half of the audience was Sudanese and the other half was far away and the reaction was great, Venice is important because of the real cinematic reaction Very rigid and of course the reward . Gouna was different! There was a festival audience, and there were actors that i love, and people I didn’t know basically, the real reaction was different to me, because it was the first show in which the Sudanese team was present because they could not be there on other festivals, and the difference was that they heard the opinions of the stars who they loved, and I I was so amused that the Sudanese stars walked through the red carpet for the first time.
14- Is it after “you will die in the twentieth” that we say if it becomes a distinctive feature of the works of Amjad Abu Al-Ala?
I have made 7 short films and a long movie, and I can say the characteristic of my work is that it is all experiences, I don’t like the idea of this style and salvation! So if some thinks I will make another “you will die in the twentieth” alike again no, you will meet me going different paths, and this happened in the short films, from popular fantasy movie and flying cameras to another very simple movie that is applied with 800 dollars, for a movie that didn’t cost a dollar that is only captured On 6 months in Sudan!
I liked jumping between the different styles, to the extent that I reached the feature film, I was able to collect all of this. I remained free to deal with the body of the film. You know when someone says you are free to deal with my body or relax with my body? I stayed with the movie as my body was comfortable in dealing with it, because I tried a lot before that, and I was not worried, I did not think a lot, for example before people were surprised that this scene would work with a portable camera and it is assumed that it is with a fixed camera like all the style of the movie, and the decision of Walid was the moment when I said From now, we have a portable style and a balance factor for this type of viewer in the rest of the film .. I think it is not daring that it is not comfortable with the body of the film.
15- Tell us about your upcoming project and your plans for the future. My next project, I don’t know, I am still confused between “Khartoum’s dogs,” a something that is very vital in the city, or to quote a novel, there is so much in my brain, and my dreams in general is that I produce Sudanese and non-Sudanese films, I want to make sweet films as a director, producer and even Author, and I maintain the balance that I work with all of them in the right time