By Ogova Ondego
Published February 15, 2007
Gadala Gubara of the Sudan was in May 2006 awarded a lifetime achievement award at the second Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. Born in 1920 and having been in the film sector for six decades with 33 films to his credit, the now visually impaired Gubara said he was working on a film on the life of the world-famous French writer, Victor Hugo, adapted to The Sudan setting. He speaks to OGOVA ONDEGO.
What does winning an Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Lifetime Achievement award mean to you?
I am happy to be given this award, having worked in cinema for 60 years continuously as a script writer and director.
Does this award come with any monetary value or is it merely recognition?
It is just an award like the Oscar in the United States of America.
Would you describe how you got into the filmmaking business?
I started making films in 1946. Before that I was an officer in the British military, showing films of the British Empire to soldiers. So I noticed the great potential of this weapon and decided to take it as a career to serve my country. I made 29 documentary films and four long films.
How many films have you made to date?
The four and the 29 I have just mentioned, 33 in all.
What are these films about?
All are documentaries about the Sudan; about cultivation, agriculture, and so on. The last two films were about magicians, people who use magic. The last is a love story. It happened between a boy and a girl in the fashion of Shakespeareâ€™s Romeo and Juliet. The second film was about a man who wants to steal money by using his character. The film I am working on now is based on Victor Hugo, a French writerâ€™s story. I have adapted it to The Sudan setting. I wrote the scenario myself. I sent it to Paris, it was approved and now it is going to be wrapped up in a month from now.
Would you say your films have made any impact in the Sudan, let alone Africa?
In the Sudan, the documentary film was very effective. Sudan is a very vast country. Most of the films I made were shown in different places in the Sudan. Which means people of Darfur would know what life is like in Khartoum even without having been there from my films.
What challenges have you faced as a filmmaker in Africa?
The challenge for all African filmmakers is money. We donâ€™t have enough money to make films. I am not rich but I managed to make a film. Usually, governments should help; but they don’t.
Is there any serious problem you faced in making films in an Islamic country?
Yes, there are. You know the Islamic Sharia law forbids the showing of a woman. So I find difficulties in making films of this kind. Cinema is life, isnâ€™t it? So when you make something that is not true it doesnâ€™t look nice.
Despite such challenges, how do you go about making films?
I make successful films, good box office material, and I am very happy about it. People may like it but I know the government doesnâ€™t. When I go to the censor board I try to reason with them.
Would you care to say where and when you trained in filmmaking?
I trained in the University of California in Los Angeles in the United States. Before that I worked for the BBC.
What did you do for the BBC?
I worked in their office in Khartoum on news and short stories. But when I went to the United States I started making documentaries.
When were you at UCLA?
From 1959 to 1963. I used to go to the United States several times.
I also worked in a film studio in Cairo, Egypt, at times. All my family are in the film business. This daughter of mine, Sara, is a film director also.
How many children do you have?
I got seven and all of them are in cinema. They all hold good jobs. One of them is a manager of a big bank in the Sudan.
How can film be used to develop Africa?
If there is anything to develop Africa, then that is film. When the British and the Americans make films, they do so to control Africa because film is pictures and sound. Africans are not educated so the best way to reach them is through film. If you make a good film then you can better be understood than if you gave them a book, television or a recorded broadcast.
What is your honest opinion of the African Film Summit held in Pretoria, South Africa in early April 2006?
I was invited to the event to which I delivered a message from my minister. Africans should make an effort to attend such summits. I hope they make good conclusions; we talked a lot about improvement of filmmaking in Africa. But as I said, the greatest challenge to filmmaking in Africa is lack of funds. We need money to make films and we need money to distribute films.
What is your view of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, FEPACI?
I am a member of FEPACI and was secretary for production in Ouagadougou. I worked hard but was faced with lots of difficulties. France wants to continue controlling film in West Africa and has the ability to do this. For this reason they helped us a lot in FEPACI. However, no country gives anything for free.
Would you say where and when you were born?
I was born in Khartoum about 86 years ago, in 1920.
Would you care to comment on the crisis in Darfur? What, in your opinion, is happening there?
That is a very good question. Some of the Sudanese are being paid by the Americans to make this trouble. But we are all brothers. We are all Muslims. It is against religion to kill each other. Some people want to have good reputation and lots of money and Americans have given it to them. Americans want to keep Iranians out of Darfur so that they can come and occupy it instead. But they will not succeed because we will fight them off.
You are said to own a studio. What are some of the problems you have faced here?
The bank refused to give me permission to import a camera arguing that such equipment is owned by organisations and not individuals. So I formed a company to import equipment. But nothing has changed.
How do you see the future of cinema?
The future of cinema lies in Japan and not Africa or any other country. Do you know the Japanese bought Hollywood last month? They have bought everything and changed it to video. After five to six years there will be no cinema.
Please say something about your sight. When did you lose it?
From looking through light of the camera that I carried for 60 years. Its light affected me.