The South Sudan Film Festival is on this weekend!
Nyakouron theatre was packed out last night for the first night’s short films, interspersed with sketches from theatre groups. The crowd were not the calm, culturally-focused critics I had completely naively expected them to be; if there was popcorn, it would have been thrown. Howls of laughter were interspersed with heckling in a variety of languages, wolf howls – I kid not – whenever a woman came on screen or on stage, and yells of specific advice to actors and characters on screen. (“TELEPHONE FI? GET HER NUMBER” was my favourite, directed at my friend Lazarus’ character who was making friends with the lead female character.)
This type of event really shows up the stark differences between expat ‘returnee’ South Sudanese from Australia, the US and Europe with their contemporaries from East Africa and from Sudan. Aside from the clear stratification of funding/access to decent camera equipment across these groups, the subject matter and tone of the US-made film versus the Juba-made ones was stark and extremely interesting. The US one was serious: cunning recurring themes of water, ‘drop in the ocean’ metaphor, tribalism, generational divides and nation-building rhetoric, all packed into ten minutes; it was very definitely ‘deep’. (My only criticism of this film is that it suffers from the problematic scripting of anything talking so clearly about “big issues” – it’s hard to do a short, punchy and serious script about national divisions that doesn’t become a series of set soundbites.)
On the other hand, the locally produced one – with excellent crew and decent equipment – was shaky, with poor sound, difficult outside lighting, and no running story. Its focus was a series of overlapping incidents in a ‘village’ – the misunderstandings of the hapless city boy, the sexual harassment of young women at the borehole, the domestic violence, the theft of a chicken, the fecklessness of the peasant farmer. It was funny, particularly the chicken thief moments: shot from a perspective behind the running chicken, low on the ground. Chicken’s-eye shots are I guess naturally funny.