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Karlovy Vary: Sudanese director Mohammad Kordofani explores racism and civil war legacy in 'Goodbye Julia'

Mohamed Kordofani made history when his debut film Farewell to Julia premiered at Un Certain Regard in May, marking the first-ever Sudanese feature film screened at ) Cannes Film Festival . The film, which tells the tension and violent politics of his divided country through the lens of a quiet domestic drama, won over audiences and critics alike and won the department’s prestigious Liberty Award.

The film is set before the partition of South Sudan 2014 When Mona (Eiman Yousif), a wealthy woman from the north, accidentally hit and killed the son of a poor family in the south with a car. The boy’s distraught father chased her home, and Mona’s husband, who considered all dark southerners “savages,” shot the boy. Distraught, Mona seeks redemption by hiring the man’s unwitting wife Julia (Slan Riak) as her maid.

Cordofani received a The Hollywood Reporter interview As of this writing, the Civil War has shown no signs of subsiding.

Were you able to return to your country after you finished the film shortly before the recent outbreak of violence in Sudan?

Everything is up in the air and no one knows what will happen. I came here (Bahrain) to finish post-production, but the Khartoum airport wasn’t completely destroyed. I don’t know when the service will be restored.

When did you start working on the film and what was the idea that got you started in the first place?

I don’t know if I can put my finger on it. But I think it started when I heard about the referendum results (succession in South Sudan) which had a huge 99 % voted for separation. At that moment I literally stopped and had to process what was going on. Because , it’s something deeper, and I think it has to do with the racism that we (by which I mean the northern population) have been practicing for a long time. But I didn’t start writing right away. This is a slower transition process. And that’s what this movie is about. This is a film about the transformation of a man who realizes that he has unknowingly become racist and wishes to overcome it. One first conforms to social norms and traditions, becomes a little liberated and open, and begins to question those traditions that have led to the institutional racism we have inherited, and the oppression women experience in our society. society.

I went through this transition and it really forced me to write something. I started writing goodbye Julia at 2011. Then the revolution happened, and then it became even more urgent to keep writing. This revolution is truly inspiring and made possible by women. But there is conflict in our society because even though we celebrate women and their role in the revolution, we still police their behavior. When it comes to our everyday lives, no one really wants to change anything.

Did you decide to set the protagonist as a woman and tell the story from a woman’s perspective?

I really don’t know exactly when, or why, I decided to do this. But the most influential people in my life have been women, starting with my mom. Since this story is based on transformation, I knew I wanted to be on the side of the downtrodden, so I thought I’d better tell it from a woman’s perspective. Both women in this story suffer from oppression. Mona suffers from social oppression and Julia’s systemic racism. Both are trying to overcome their own social norms and traditions. In fact, I see myself in both roles.

If I could give more context, my life has changed quite a bit. I was an aircraft engineer before switching careers to become a film producer. This shift changed a lot of things. Because in engineering, there is only right or wrong, only one or zero, and there is no gray area in between. When I changed the path back to 2018, I started noticing that everything wasn’t just zero or one, And there’s no all-good or all-bad character. What I’m interested in is that gray area where you don’t really know who to empathize with, where you can’t really be sure of what you think and where you stand. I was terrified to make this movie because I’m not sure how I’m going to feel in five years from the points made in the movie. I spent a year without writing, stagnant, and finally accepted the fact that this movie is exactly what I think it is now, so I don’t think I’ll regret it five years from now. time. At least my thoughts are original, real, and honest.

‘Goodbye Julia’
Cannes Film Festival

Do you think Mona and Julia are complicit in the systemic racism and sexism they suffer? Both characters try to change the status quo, but sometimes they also support those who perpetrate oppression.

I don’t know if they were complicit because they knowingly knew what they were doing was wrong. They just accept and embrace everything that comes from their ancestors. When you don’t question that, it becomes you. Like in the movie, Julia asks Mona, “What if you don’t move out of your house?” Mona says she can’t because they inherited it. She said it reminded her husband of his father and the house smelled of his father. Julia retorted: You live in front of the cemetery. What I’m really asking is, do we have to keep everything from our ancestors, or can we choose what to inherit and let go? Because this racism is part of our genetics. It comes from the history of slavery in Sudan. We can’t look past this history and see people with “pure African blood” as more slaves than their ancestors 100 years ago. It’s unbelievable to me.

But the relationship between Northerners and Southerners is not just about oppression. Like Mona and Julia’s story, it’s a more complicated relationship. Because we have very close and fond memories with Southerners. Ever since we posted the poster of Mona lying on Julia’s lap, I’ve been getting messages and emails from people in the North talking about how they miss their friends from the South, how they build this special relationship with this person or that relationship, and how they really want things to go back to the way they were. So this film also expresses the love of the southern people.

Part of the reason you made this movie was to provide a international news coverage?

When you turn on Sudan news, all you see is smoke from burning cars and buildings, but The fact that it doesn’t affect you as the viewer. But if you could put the footage into one of these houses and see there were ordinary people out there just getting by, living their lives, trying to be better people, ordinary people who suffered like you, who were suffering in the same way way, have the same family and neighborhood issues, then maybe the outside world can understand us better, or better understand what’s going on. I don’t want the world to feel pity, I think we are capable of solving our problems, but at least they can stop outside meddling and stop their country from making the problem worse. Some useful things have been brought in from the outside, such as George Clooney’s focus on Sudan, but getting outsiders’ attention is only the beginning. It probably means nothing unless you actually involve the people of Sudan in what you want to do.

Goodbye Julia ‘Goodbye Julia’ Provided by Cannes Film Festival Goodbye Julia

Was the whole movie shot in Sudan?

Yes, but it was a very difficult shoot because we shot the film during a military coup. People took to the streets to protest against the military. Protests take place at least twice a week. We might get tear gas rolled over three or four times a day. But that’s how we work, whether it’s the Sudanese crew or people coming in from the outside, like the director of photography Pierre de Villiers, the gaffer, the chief advertising man, the sound engineer. These guys are from out there and I really have to show my love and appreciation for what they do. They are very brave. Sudan is not a very stable country. Under such circumstances, they came to Sudan from their own country to shoot movies, which is really admirable and amazing.

Do you think your film can help the process of reconciliation between northern and southern Sudanese communities?

I have no idea. In fact, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The revolution changed people’s mentality, and now some people want to reconcile with the southerners. But we have the same question for the communities in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region in the east. This is a recurring question. The South is the poster boy for this movie, but that’s not the only problem with the genre. I want reconciliation, but we need more, we need to rebuild a new national identity, if that makes sense. Not based on pride of birth, not based on gender, race, religion, or all those things that separate us, but based on values ​​that we can all truly share, values ​​that the revolution has always called for: freedom, justice, coexistence. These are values ​​that we are truly proud of and that unite us. Part of this process, perhaps the first part, will be reconciliation and acknowledging guilt for things that went wrong in the past.

Can you show this film in Sudan?

If they stop bombing, we can show this movie. I’ve said it before. We don’t need fancy movie theaters, I can paint the walls white and bring a projector, I can go from city to city like this and show it to people. This is all I need.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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