film success

Sudan: Interview with award-winning ‘Goodbye Julia’ director Mohamed Kordofani

By Ati Metwaly

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Posted on June 14, 2023 13:34

 © Film poster of Sudanese writer-director  Mohamed Kordofani’s award-winngin movie, Goodbye Julia
Film poster of Sudanese writer-director Mohamed Kordofani’s award-winngin movie, Goodbye Julia

The news of Sudan’s entry Goodbye Julia winning the 76th Cannes International Film Festival’s Freedom Prize in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section has sparked interest as the international cinema community takes notice of the country’s rich cinematic offerings.

Written and directed by Mohamed Kordofani, the movie is produced by Station Films, a company founded by Amjad Abu Alala and Mohamed Alomda. Only a few years back, Abu Alala’s multi-award-winning You Will Die at 20 was Sudan’s first-ever entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards (but was not nominated).

“It was amazing, overwhelming!” says Kordofani, speaking to The Africa Report from Dubai about winning after the world premiere of his film.

The largely self-taught filmmaker celebrates his success away from his home country after he fled due to the crisis in Sudan.

Kordofani’s first feature, Goodbye Julia takes place just before the secession of South Sudan. The plot follows Mona (Eiman Yousif), a married former singer who seeks redemption for causing the death of a southern man by hiring his wife Julia (Siran Riyak – a former Miss South Sudan) as her maid. 

Societal divisions

As the director clarifies, the topic of his film revolves around “racism, classicism and the many divisions between Sudanese people.” The contrasts are obvious on many levels; Mona is an Arab Muslim singer from Sudan’s upper-middle-class, while Julia, a Christian woman, hails from an underprivileged community in South Sudan and is of central African origin.

The complex relationship between the two women highlights the many divisions in Sudanese society.

I would love to see the Sudanese growing cinematic movement turn into a fully-fledged industry, where people will have stable jobs and contribute to the growth of this art form. We have so many stories to tell.

Tensions between North and South Sudanese people form the backdrop of the tale, starting in 2005 until the 2011 South Sudan independence referendum.

“I make films for regular viewers. I use some dramatic components such as crime, and suspense, to reach that,” says Kordofani, adding that the topic is quite heavy. But he says that he has integrated Goodbye Julia with music to make it more accessible to cinephiles.

While the country split predominates Goodbye Julia’s events, the songs capitalise on the unity between Arab and African cultures.

“Clearly, through the film’s score, the song producer and composer Mazen Hamed makes us see that instead of spending our lives separated, this is what we could have celebrated,” he says.

“Mona sings a song by a late popular Sudanese singer Sayed Khalifa in a church, with a composition including African accents. There are numerous songs from North and South Sudan, representing different cultures, and an original song closing the film,” Kordofani says.

In the face of the ongoing Sudanese war, the film’s topic resonates even stronger with the viewer. Kordofani’s ideas of divisions are – unfortunately – only emphasised by what he refers to as “a civil war, which should it continue for long, will soon turn into a big ethnic conflict. The Sudanese people are very diversified, and victims of the segregation of communities.”

Writing the script was an elaborate process, culminating in a four-year, 10-draft task, as he sought to understand the walls that separate people in his home country, shedding light on their inhumane character.

“It is a long history of racism and divisions, starting with British colonialism, through the many political oppressions that followed,” he says, adding that several scenes were shot during the protests and at times the production had to be suspended for safety reasons.

Although emerging victorious from Cannes, for the past month and a half, Kordofani has not been able to find peace of mind.

“On 13 April, I left Khartoum for Beirut to work on Goodbye Julia, planning to return after a few days, then 15 April changed everything,” he says, referring to the beginning of the war.

“The whole cast and crew fled Sudan within days, taking with them equipment. Ever since, I keep moving between the cities: Bahrain, Dubai, Cairo, Malmo, Cannes… There is no stability at this stage,” Kordofani says.

Growing cinematic movement

Goodbye Julia’s screening at Cannes marks an important breakthrough in Sudanese film history, testifying to its recent significant growth.

“Today’s developments and topics tackled by the Sudanese up-and-coming filmmakers do not come out of the blue; they are a result of many facts accumulated over past decades. Going back half a century, we will find many important cinematic gems that contributed greatly to Sudanese cinema history,” Kordofani says.

He also points to a significant increase in audience reception within Sudan until the war broke out.

“It is definitely a fast-growing cinematic movement, yet I would not call it a cinematic industry yet,” Kordofani says.

He contributes to the budding scene through his own company Klozium Studios; the name derives from the Sudanese pronunciation of Rome’s Colosseum, specialising in music videos, ads, and docuseries production. The company was involved in the production of Goodbye Julia.

Despite the ongoing war in his country, Kordofani wants to return to Khartoum as fast as possible, mulling the possibility of returning before a cessation of hostilities.

Unable to formulate any concrete plans at this stage, Kordofani does have a big dream. “I would love to see the Sudanese growing cinematic movement turn into a fully-fledged industry, where people will have stable jobs and contribute to the growth of this art form. We have so many stories to tell.”

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