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Daughter of Sudanese film legend preserves his legacy

Khartoum, Sudan | AFP |

As she drove past an apartment complex on a street in Khartoum, Sara Jadallah turned silent.

It was here that her late father, the legendary film-maker Jadallah Jubara, set up Sudan’s first private film studio in the 1970s.

But in 2008, following an eight-year court battle over ownership of the land, the government demolished Studio Jad.

The demolition, shortly before the film-maker’s death at the age of 88, left little trace of the studio.

But stopping next to the blocks of flats that now stand in its place, Jadallah pointed at a white patch on an old wall among the new buildings.

“The screen is still there,” she said.

With her father’s studio gone, Jadallah has vowed to preserve his life’s work.

With help from German experts, she has started digitising his entire film collection to create what she believes is Sudan’s first private archive of 15 and 35mm films.

“Through his camera he documented Sudan’s history. I want to preserve this legacy,” Jadallah, 66, told AFP at her home in a southern Khartoum district.

Jubara was once an officer in the British army. Shortly after World War II he began work as a projectionist in a British mobile film unit.

He went on to capture iconic moments in Sudan’s history, including the hoisting of the country’s flag as it gained independence from Britain in 1956.

In a career spanning more than five decades, he produced more than 100 documentaries and four feature films, including a famous 1984 love story “Tajooj”.

But years of storage in poor conditions have taken a toll on his film archives.

“Film rolls have a life span and because of exposure to heat and dust they have been damaged,” said Jadallah.

Journey into the past

In his early years, Jubara faced resistance from a conservative Sudanese society, making it difficult for him to find actors.

But a determined Jubara encouraged family members to work with him, including Jadallah.

“He believed that cameramen were the most important people in the world… and in their hands was the most important weapon,” she said.

Jadallah, who made a name for herself as a national swimming champion despite having polio as a child, also studied film in Cairo.

She worked with her father when he began to lose his eyesight due to old age, helping him film part of an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”.

Jubara’s documentaries included films on Darfur, where a deadly conflict since 2003 has killed tens of thousands of people.

His early films preserved a snapshot of Sudanese society before the 1989 coup that installed an Islamist-backed regime.

Prior to the coup, Sudan was home to more than 60 cinemas, including 16 in Khartoum that often screened films from Hollywood and Bollywood.

Today, after years of economic hardships and government restrictions on importing foreign films, just three cinemas operate in Khartoum.

German film-maker Katharina von Schroeder, who is helping Jadallah to digitise Jubara’s collection, said watching his work was like taking a journey into the past.

“There were lot more enterprises and factories at that time, a lot more night clubs,” she told AFP.

“Without any judgement, it was a different place,” she said as she showed footage from Jubara’s collection.

In one commercial, a young Jadallah is seen dressed in a red top and a skirt.

In another clip, Sudanese couples in Western clothes danced at an late evening open-air party — something rare in today’s Sudan.

“There is no conflict between religion and cinema,” said Jadallah, “but some extremists reject cinema without even understanding it.”

“If you don’t have cinema, you don’t have a voice,” she said.

A gift to Sudan

Over his five-decade career, Jubara produced more than 100 hours of film.

Digitising them is an enormous job. Around 40 hours have been processed so far, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

The project has received backing from a German foundation, the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art, and the German embassy in Khartoum.

“It was definitely worth saving this heritage… and Sara had this wish to preserve her father’s legacy,” said Schroeder.

The processing was done in Berlin. Jadallah was initially hesitant to hand over rare footage.

“I could understand that… in films as opposed to digital, you just have one copy and there’s nothing you can do if it’s gone,” said Schroeder.

“As far as I know this is the only private film archive for 15 and 35 mm materials in Sudan,” she said.

Tayeb Mahdi, director of a Khartoum-based film school, said the project was a fitting tribute to Jubara.

“This government doesn’t care about cinema, while the private sector is disinterested,” he said.

“Despite this, Jubara kept on making films.”

For Jadallah, preserving her father’s legacy is a gift to Sudan.

“I feel sad when I remember my father witnessing his studio being demolished… I feel sad when there is no cinema,” she said, wiping away tears.

“I want to preserve his films, because Sudan’s future generations should see their country’s history.”

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