Sudanese filmmaker and visual artist Mohamed Fawi had been practising as a telecommunications engineer for two years after graduating from the University of Khartoum when he decided to quit in 2010. He had struggled to find meaning with self, a situation he attributed to childhood experiences while practising as a Sufi and his political life in college as a student leader.
Fawi moved to film in 2011 when he joined a collective of artists in Khartoum. His motivation to use film as a medium was not only because it was a better medium to tell stories, but also because he wanted to share personal narratives. The power of film gave him the chance to curate and produce stories that were significant to the community and that they could easily relate to.
At the time, Sudan’s film industry had been dormant for a while, considering Khartoum had very few cinemas that catered for film lovers. There were, however, a number of local groups restoring the life of film in the country. Fawi teamed up with a group of creatives, intellectuals and writers who had previously formed the Sudan Film Factory in 2010. This was among the first film groups in Khartoum and with the availability of an accessible digital platform, easy to make film, they set out to reinvigorate the industry and expose Sudanese audiences to diverse yet familiar stories.
The independent cultural platform’s aim was to develop the skills of young Sudanese interested in film. Led by TalalAfifi, the Factory worked through film workshops and classes, after starting off as a documentary training project that was funded by Goethe Institut in Sudan. When Fawi joined he began curating classes for young filmmakers in shooting and camera work in Sudan and went on to become a trainer. Fawi frequently did personal projects and TV commercials to raise funds.
'Art gives us a space to express our feelings and talk about various difficult topics'
In May 2018, Fawi was in Nairobi networking, interacting and looking for opportunities to collaborate with filmmakers around East Africa. For two weeks, he met various East Africans working on the film industry and they discussed the future of film in the region. The discussions ranged from raising funds for films, shooting inexpensive quality work and possible creative collaborations in the region.
Fawi was also pitching some of his films for funds and scouting for a co-producer. One of the films, ‘Alkhidr’, is a short feature about a silent stranger among the Sufi community, who makes them question their beliefs. The film is inspired by the famous spiritual story in Sufi Islamic community about Prophet Alkhidr who visits believers to test their faith. The prophet is manifested differently in the believer’s lives. To tell this story, Fawi’ draws from his Sufi background.
He is currently working with various artists from Sudan and the UK on a visual music documentary that will celebrate the diversity of the daily lives of Sudanese workers. ‘Workers Beats’ will mix and record natural sounds produced by workers (carpenters, fishermen, weavers) using their tools of trade and synchronised with four traditional Sudanese musical instruments. The focus is on the collective sounds composed by the everyday lives of the workers. These shared sounds make the melody of life.
In 2017 Fawi reproduced a traditional Sudanese film with students that was widely received and applauded. His work as the director of photography on a documentary celebrating the culture and heritage of Sudan gave him more motivation to narrate stories through film. He has recently worked as the Sudan Production Manager of 'Bouncers of Europe' a French film documenting the crisis of migration and refugees in Africa and Europe.
‘If art ever has a message, it is to understand each other…’ Mohamed Fawi
Fawi is also developing a platform called ‘Afro-flix’. He is creating this to make it easy for film lovers across the region to access Independent African Films. It will be a collection of films curated for and by Africans. He hopes that people can start appreciating different narratives and open themselves up to the beauty of diversity from across the region through film. The platform will also be able to get curators and creators their money’s worth since it is an uphill task getting funds for independent filmmakers. Perhaps this will also bring together Filmmakers and encourage collaborations from across the region and spark the film market.
Words by Frank Ogallo