Talking About Trees
Directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari, Talking About Trees tells the story of a Sudanese film club, following a group of retired directors on a mission to try and reopen a cinema in the city of Omdurman, located just outside of Khartoum. Unfortunately, in a country dominated by Islamists who have made the existence of their art extremely difficult, especially in the public sphere, this proves to be a near-impossible task.
The club is headed up by four filmmakers – Ibrahim Shadad, Manar Al Hilo, Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim and Altayeb Mahdi – whose struggle and passion are at the heart the documentary. All of the subjects have a deep love of cinema and they were all educated in film schools outside Sudan. They specialised mainly in politically charged films, many of which have been banned or lost, which reflected the influence of both Soviet montage and the French New Wave.
Using whatever means available, including a laptop and modest video projector, Shadad and his companions try to bring film history back to the people, hosting free screenings of classics wherever possible. They have no problem drawing a crowd as many curious people start gathering to watch, many of whom have probably never seen a movie projection or anything like it before. This inspires the group to take on the challenge of re-establishing a huge outdoor cinema that’s been deserted for many years. Their plan is to show something thrilling and engaging; they decide upon Tarantino’s Django Unchained in the hope that they can use the excitement of the audience to convince the Sudanese of the importance of the medium and of being able to watch films in a communal setting.
The sad truth that Talking About Trees gets across is both the loss of Sudan’s cultural history and the impossibility of reviving it, at least as long as the Islamists remain in power. Gasmelbari expertly captures the daily struggles of the Sudanese film club in an unassuming manner, by simply allowing the group’s words and deeds speak for themselves, with little to no interaction from the director himself. This feature is a reflective take on what it must be like to be told that the very medium that allows you to create and thrive can no longer exist where you live. Filmgoers and filmmakers in western countries should count themselves lucky that they don’t have to live in such a reality.
Amaliah S Marmon-Halm
Talking About Trees does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.