“What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?”
– Bertolt Brecht
The history of a nation’s cinema is, of course, tied up in the history of a nation. Not every nation, however, has a history like Sudan. Split by civil war in 2011, the country is still in the midst of a power struggle and is often presented merely as a country bound to constant conflict. Talking About Trees is a film exploring the cinematic history of Sudan which attempts to get its cinema culture back on its feet, despite the violence around them.
The film begins by introducing us to the Sudanese Film Club, founded in 1989 and made up of Ibrahim, Manar, Suleiman and Altayeb, all of whom are former filmmakers, though they have been unable to make films for years. The members of the club plan to revive an old cinema, and so decide to hold a community screening. Throughout the film, the members of the club reminisce on the history of Sudanese cinema, providing brilliant insight into films almost never discussed in the west. The four were all educated outside of Sudan and speak of their dreams for a Sudan filled with culture, art and discussion, an imagined Sudan that they will attempt to build themselves, the first step of which is holding a screening at the old cinema.
Though the film holds Sudanese cinema close to its heart, upon consulting the community it becomes clear that what will draw viewers in is something popular, a western perhaps, a film that provides romance, action and laughs. We watch as the film club attempt to select a film to screen at the cinema, consulting the community every step of the way in order to provide as much interest as possible in the project. They realise that in order to revive Sudanese cinema, they first have to revive cinema in general, something there has been little time for due to the issues facing the country.
Talking About Trees is a film that looks to stand for hope in the face of the greatest oppositions. Director Suhaib Gasmelbari impresses on his debut feature, keeping the film club, their goals, and their passion for Sudanese cinema at the heart of the film. Rather than straying too far into setting up the context in which the film is set, Gasmelbari simply tells the story of the film club; after all, the film was made for those who know all too well the horrors in Sudan, and wish to escape them. The people of Sudan are at the heart of this film, and Gasmelbari and the film club set to provide them with an outlet for escapism and a space to dream in. It is a film that presents cinema as many different things: cinema as culture, cinema as entertainment, cinema as hope, but most importantly cinema as community, and it is that point that makes Talking About Trees such a special film. It drives home the fact that cinema should bring people together and create discussion, and allow for a different perspective.
Talking About Trees is out in cinemas now