Millennium Post

Sudan’s cinema lovers dream of better days

Sudan’s cinema lovers dream of better days
Standing in his dimly lit projection room, Ali al-Nur longs for the days when Sudanese filmgoers filled the rows of plush red seats below, enthralled by American blockbusters, Egyptian comedies and Bollywood extravaganzas.

The Palace of Youth and Children where Nur, 55, works is one of just three functioning cinemas left in a city of 4.6 million people.

On Wednesday few visit the squat, concrete hall, its outside plastered with sun-faded posters for the years-old Indian action films it screens. Although Khartoum’s upmarket Afra mall has a screen, the Palace is a rare survivor of the heyday of the capital’s cinemas.

Many stand empty after closing their doors because of the economic hardship and government policies that followed the 1989 Islamist-backed coup that brought President Omar al-Bashir to power.

Nur started working in the cinemas as a teenager in his hometown of El Obeid, before studying film engineering in Cairo and arriving in Khartoum in 1983, where he worked in three other cinemas. At the time Khartoum had some 15 cinemas, all packed on weekends.

“In the past, people used to call to reserve tickets and in the week there was a programme with English-language films on Sunday, Arabic on Tuesday,” Nur says amid the whirr of his projection room. On Wednesday the Palace fills just a handful of seats and many of its customers are young couples seeking somewhere private to talk rather than the delights of the silver screen.

“Cinema’s in a bad state now. There’s no cinema really,” Nur sighs. The Sudanese economy suffered badly after 1989, particularly when the United States imposed a trade embargo in 1997 over allegations that included rights abuses, and cinemas struggled to afford foreign releases, prompting many to buy cheaper Indian films.

The capital’s open-air movie theatres -- auditoriums with hundreds of seats laid out in front of huge screens -- were worst hit. Fearful of demonstrations, Bashir’s regime imposed a curfew around the capital for several months.


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