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Cannes Film Festival: Freedom at the Forefront in GOODBYE JULIA by Mohamed Kordofan


This year director Mohamed Kordofan put Sudanese cinema on the map. His first film Goodbye Julia won the Freedom Prize of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section. The fiction feature film is about two women who represent the complicated relationship and differences between Northern and Southern Sudanese communities. Kordofan’s story takes place in Khartoum during the last years of Sudan as a united country.

AM: How much of you personally is present in this film?
MK: It's a very personal film actually and on so many levels. I have changed quite a bit, from 2003 to 2023 I've become a completely different person. And I found that this transformation is interesting to write about. The characters in the film represent different phases and situations of my life. Most of the dialogues are real from me personally, or things I saw first-hand in society.

AM: How was filming in Sudan like?  
MK: Sudan is not famous for cinema, we don't have any cinema industry nor the infrastructure nor a platform, almost nothing. So, you don't have a crew, you don't have equipment, you don't have procedures to get permits and so on. But all this aside, we filmed during very turbulent times. It was one year after the military coup and people were still protesting and security forces were facing them with tear guards. They would close down bridges so that people don't get together. You can imagine how difficult this was for production because these protests get announced one day before so it was impossible to have a solid schedule. I always knew it's going to be challenging to shoot the film but I didn't foresee war as one of the obstacles.

AM: And what gave you the strength to go against all these problems?
MK: I changed careers in 2019, I used to be an aircraft engineer and then went back to Sudan to become a filmmaker. I started a production house and I found that there are so many youngsters who are energetic and who just needed some guidance or somewhere they can work. They didn't have experience to be honest, but they were very passionate about filmmaking. In no way we could have shot this film without them.

AM: How did you build the relationship between your two female leads?
MK: I think it has changed with the drafts. I had this thing where I'm just trying to put all characters in the grey area where they are all flawed. None of them were perfect. Their decisions, while questionable, are also understandable. So, I built a plot in that way where they take very debatable decisions, mainly Mona, but even Julia. They all have this debate where you really feel disgusted from some of the things they do, but you can in a way understand their position. And to me, this is important because I think what I'm trying to do is help people attempt to reconcile. It really requires you to have some understanding of the other, even if you disagree with them. The compassion that you can build by understanding them really helps in reconciliation.

AM: Tell us more about the casting process, how did it happen?
MK: Both of them were found on social media. I did some auditions, I put a casting call out there. I mentioned that an acting experience was not required, so I got a lot of people interested but I didn't find anyone. And then one day I was bored, I was just looking at Facebook and I found a video of a girl singing at a cafe and who looks just like how I wanted my character to be. She happened to have one acting experience and was very passionate about acting. My second lead actress was a successful model in Dubai that I found on Instagram, I sent her the synopsis of the film and she agreed to join the cast.  

AM: And how would you describe the Sudanese woman of 2023?
MK: Sudanese women have always been strong but have been oppressed. Something very interesting happened in 2019, or late 2018, when the revolution started, we found women in the forefronts of all the protests. They were very powerful. We tend to celebrate them when we are pushing for what we want, and then when we are receiving, they are often pushed to the back row.

AM: Do you consider continuing doing films in Sudan?
MK: I have a production house in Sudan and I'm very interested in telling Sudanese stories. I left a very stable life. I started a very unstable life. But I did it because I am passionate. I was very moved by this revolution. I felt that I have some responsibility towards my country; I had to go back and start giving. The people who joined and became the crew of my film are even more motivated, they give me the courage to continue. But at the end of the day safety is more important than trying to give back. So, if I can’t guarantee safety for the crew, I won’t go out and film. But the minute the firing stops, I’ll be back to continue what I have started.