I am from Sudan. I live between Nuba Mountains in Sudan and Nairobi, Kenya, but I have always stayed abreast of events in Sudan — the mass atrocities, the civil war — and wanted to make sense out of it all. Initially, I wished that a Sudanese person I trusted would actually relate what's happening there. But Sudanese media is just not covering these events well, and there are always rumors that the news out of the West is fabricated. Indeed, a lot of the clips I saw coming out of the area seemed very shallow. They portrayed people simply as victims. I wanted to give my people a voice. I'm a filmmaker and I have the energy, so I decided to go to Sudan myself.
Initially, my goal was to make a film focused on the atrocities taking place since the country separated into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011. Because of my previous campaign work, in the Sudanese elections of 2010, I had access to the camps where new Sudanese refugees arrive every day. But when I went there, I discovered that this story was more nuanced than even I had expected.
These people are so much more than just victims. They have a strong identity and they really know who they are and why they're fighting and why all these things are happening to them. They have a surprising amount of hope, and they believe their lives are actually going to become better. They're celebrating life.
This film took shape as I was listening to music from the refugee camps. The music, as seen in the footage I shot, was made with instruments created from found objects. The instruments used a radio as an amplifier to create an electronic Sudanese sound that was unique. The sound was new and very hip and I loved it! The music moved me so much that I knew it and the story behind it were key. To me, the heart of the whole film is one particular scene where the audience is listening to this electronic music.
To make sure I was on the right track, I brought some recordings to Sudanese-American singer/songwriter Alsarah, and I said, "Listen to this song and tell me — am I crazy or is this new music that nobody else in the world has heard?" She agreed that the music was very exciting and she ended up being a big part of the project.
There were a lot of challenges in making this film. The biggest was travel. Getting to these areas is very hard and it requires a lot of logistics and a lot of flying. Getting to Nuba Mountains requires flying first to Nairobi, Kenya, then from Nairobi to Juba in South Sudan. In Juba, I had to find a World Food Program or U.N. flight going to one of the refugee camps. Then from the refugee camps I had to find a way to travel into the rebel-controlled areas and the war zones.
And that was very hard, not least of all because fuel costs 100 dollars per gallon. The second biggest challenge was not being able to take a professional crew with me. There wasn't enough funding, plus there was the challenge of traveling to a war zone. To solve this, I helped train local folks. We had some frightening moments — when fighter jets flew directly overhead — but I always felt the project was worthwhile, and the people I trained were glad their voices were being heard.
The one thing I want to do for you, the viewers, with this film is to change your mindset about Sudanese identity. Watch this film with an open heart, and you cannot help but be struck by the images of Sudanese people dancing and singing. Base your idea of Sudanese identity on that. Despite years of adversity, the Sudanese people have retained — and even developed further — a signature strength and resilience and even joy. That is who we are, and that's the main message of my film.
— hajooj kuka, Director/Producer