Toronto International Film Festival and the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR*) and its founding institutions, the European Film Academy, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and International Film Festival Rotterdam have issued calls for the Sudanese authorities to release filmmaker Hajooj Kuka and the four artists imprisoned with him.
Based on published reports, Hajooj Kuka, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was among a group of artists handed two-month sentences and fines of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($90) for “threatening peace” and “breaching public safety”.
Last month, Sudanese authorities raided a cultural centre in the Al-Zuhour neighborhood of the capital Khartoum, where several artists were rehearsing a play, after receiving a noise complaint from local residents.
In its statement, TIFF Co-Heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente called for the immediate release of Internationally celebrated documentary filmmaker hajooj kuka who, along with four other artists (Duaa Tarig Mohamed Ahmed, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Hamdan, Ayman Khalaf Allah Mohamed Ahmed, and Ahmed Elsadig Ahmed Hammad), has been jailed for 2 months in Khartoum following an attack on the Civic Lab, where they were creating art for community engagement.
“hajooj kuka is an exceptional filmmaker and TIFF has been proud to present his work,” said Vicente and Bailey. “His films Beats of the Antonov and aKasha revealed a singular view of life in Sudan through the eyes of a remarkable artist. hajooj, along with four other artists, is now in prison in Sudan and we need to bring attention to this urgent and troubling situation. When an artist is silenced, society as a whole suffers.”
According to the Sudanese organization Gisa, where kuka is co-director: “The case, which was policed, prosecuted, and judged by al-Bashir era authorities, points to a dangerous backsliding in Sudan as oppressive laws put in place by the former regime continue to stifle free expression and target artists and human rights defenders.”
TIFF encourages audiences to contact the Sudanese Embassy in their country and follow #ReleaseTheArtistsSudan on social media to learn more about this issue.
Two of kuka’s films, Beats of the Antonov (2014) and aKasha (2018), have premiered at the Festival, with the former winning the TIFF People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary. Beats of the Antonov paints an inspiring portrait of a people who, despite having lost kin, homes, and livelihoods in the ongoing conflict in Sudan, have improvised creative ways to continue harvesting crops and herding cattle and continue to celebrate their heritage in the face of devastation and defeat. Threading together the voices (speaking and singing) of militants, social workers, intellectuals and other everyday folk, Beats of the Antonov reverses conventional representations of victimhood and reveals an alternative narrative of tenacity and resilience.
aKasha is an offbeat comedy about a love triangle between a boy, a girl, and an AK-47, set during the short respite from civil unrest that takes place during the rainy season in Sudan. After a post-coital argument with Lina (Ekram Marcus), Adnan (Kamal Ramadan) hightails it without grabbing his gun. With his pants barely pulled up, he runs into Absi (Ganja Mohamed Chakado), a young man who’s not keen on rejoining the fighting. He wants to dodge the “kasha,” the annual round-up of soldiers. The pair then embark on a wild 24 hours, dodging their higher-ups, elders, and romantic rivals alike to try and get back Adnan’s girl, his gun, and his dignity.
Statement follows from International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR*):
Hajooj Mohamed Haj Omar (hajooj kuka) is a prominent Sudanese filmmaker and member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. As a director of both documentary and fiction films, his work has received critical acclaim world-wide. Born in Sudan, Kuka studied in Lebanon and in the United States and currently resides in Sudan. His documentary BEATS OF THE ANTONOV on war, music and the resilience of the people of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, won the People’s Choice Award at 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, in addition to six other film festival awards. Due to his work, he was listed in the Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the Leading Global Thinkers of 2014. In 2018, Hajooj Kuka’s first narrative feature film AKASHA premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at the Venice International Film Critics Week. Alongside his filmmaking, he also teaches drama and filmmaking to young artists in Khartoum and is the co-founder of the Refugee Club, an alliance of Sudanese artists whose work reflects an awareness of the transitory state of migration.
On 10 August 2020, Hajooj Kuka was arrested together with ten other artists from the Civic Lab in Khartoum, where they were rehearsing a theatre play. After being detained and assaulted by the police, the Central Khartoum Primary Court issued a verdict against five of the ten young artists, falsely accusing them of public annoyance stipulated in Article 69 of the Criminal Code and Article 77 on disruption of public safety. On 17 September 2020, Hajooj Kuka and four other artists have been sentenced to two months of imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 SDG (76 EUR).
We are very concerned about the safety of Hajooj Kuka and his fellow artists and call on the Sudanese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and his fellow artists and encourage all film and culture institutions around the world to do the same.
The Berlin International Film Festival also joined the international protest against the arrest of Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka and four other artists, and called for their immediate release by the Sudanese authorities.
The Berlin International Film Festival joins the international protest against the arrest of Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka and four other artists. The group of artists has been randomly charged with causing a public nuisance.
We call for their immediate release by the Sudanese authorities.
Hajooj Kuka is a prominent Sudanese filmmaker and member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. As a director of both documentary and fiction films, his work has received critical acclaim world-wide. Born in Sudan, Kuka studied in Lebanon and in the United States and currently resides in Sudan. His documentary Beats of the Antonov on war, music and the resilience of the people of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, won the People’s Choice Award at 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, in addition to six other film festival awards. Due to his work, he was listed in the Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the Leading Global Thinkers of 2014. In 2016, Hajooj Kuka participated in Berlinale Talents. His first narrative feature film aKasha was supported by the Berlinale World Cinema Fund and premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018. Alongside his filmmaking, he also teaches drama and filmmaking to young artists in Khartoum and is the co-founder of the Refugee Club, an all