Talking About Trees: BRWC LFF Review: One of the greatest aspects of cinema is that it is a worldwide art form. Meaning there are countless minds and cultural perspectives contributing immeasurable insight to the medium, and that influence has grown and honed cinema into what it is today. The downsides are the stories that come from the individuals who have had their access to their passion cut off. Sudan is one place that must face this unfortunate reality because there, cinema has effectively been outlawed.
Technically film screenings aren’t illegal but since the closure of the State Film Institute, obtaining films legally has been impossible for cinemas and all of them have closed their doors to the Sudanese people out of necessity.
Suhaib Gasmelbari’s documentary Talking About Trees follows four aging Sudanese filmmakers who long to resurrect the days where watching a film in a theatre was possible in Sudan. Together they form the Sudanese Film Group and have the lofty goal of reviving an old theatre to begin screening films for the people of their district to remind them, and the people all across Sudan, how great cinema is when allowed to flourish.
Talking About Trees is a slow burn. Few steps are taken to contextualise viewers with the world we are placed into, and what feels like almost half the runtime is made up of actionless shots displaying the rundown nature of Sudan. It’s very much a reality check experience, one that reminds you of how good we have it being able to see films in a myriad of different ways whenever we want. The pace is certainly not for all tastes, but for those with the patience to hear these brilliant men out, there is a humbling and powerful story being told.
The amount of passion still in these older men is staggering; they have such a vivid vision that you can’t help but root for them against the odds as they strive for their dream. Their very existence has been put on the line by governmental oppression, and you can sense that every man is willing to fight to end it. Towards the end, the government intervention on their efforts begins to become too much to bear.
And one statement by one of the men sums up everything “They always think it’s hiding something. Be it film or anything else.”, here in just two sentences, the entire sentiment of the Sudanese government towards art has been summed up. They don’t understand it, so they cannot trust it, and thus they seek to destroy it.
This is not a documentary film in the traditional sense, more a harsh and tragic depiction of reality, one we are not led through by anyone as we usually would be. Rather we are placed into a situation of genuine crisis and can only witness a fleeting attempt to alleviate the problem. Gasmelbari has made something genuinely authentic in making Talking About Trees through constructing it like this.
There are no interview segments, and there are no staged protests or grand stances taken against the government to drum up the entertainment value. There is only the truth, as it happened and as it continues to happen. Nothing goes differently in the lives of these men if the camera stops rolling, everything in their lives would have ended up the same way, and realising this is the most impactful fact of all.
Slow and unassuming, Talking About Trees sneaks up on you and becomes incredibly moving. These men are true modern freedom fighters of Sudan, and their efforts to revive cinema in a place where it once blossomed do not only deserve celebrating, they deserve remembering in the years to come, and hopefully one day, a decisive victory.
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