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Cinemas in the City of Wad Madani 

In continuation of the first part of this article which elucidated the history of Cinemas in Wad Madani city and the types of audience that visited, this article will present the political, economic and societal factors that gradually led to their demise. We’ll also touch on the possibility and aspirations for the advancement of cinemas as cultural and social pillars that influenced the demographic composition of the city for many years. This is a testament to cinema culture, which often presents a great stride in the advancement of societies in all parts of the world. This article covers the quality of films provided by the cinema, the end of cinemas, what has become of them and the aspirations for the return of cinemas in Wad Madani. 

The abandoned 'AlJazeera' theatre in Wad Madani. Photo credits: Mohammed Omer for Andariya.

Types of Films that were Shown 

The films in all cinemas were selected by the Sudanese Cinema Institution, which was affiliated with the Information Ministry, the precursor of the Ministry of Culture and Media. According to cinema goers of that era, they reminisced that films were shown in cinemas in Wad Madani around the same time they were released in cinemas in the first world countries, for example the movie Guess who’s Coming to Dinner with Sidney Poitier, and War and Peace for Tolstoy that was shown in Al-Khawaja Cinema as the first Arab and African cinema to show it.  

Amongst the most popular films that were presented in Al-Khawaja Cinema were foreign films featuring Cowboys bringing to light topics like racism, Roman films (wrestling films), Egyptian films and Indian films that enamored audiences. Al-Khawaja Cinema (Colosseum) and Al-Wataniya Cinema, as we mentioned earlier, were targeting the 'enlightened' class to a certain extent, compared to the two modern cinemas Rudi and Amir that were introduced recently (in the 70s), and targeted the public in general. This also sheds light on the types of films being screened at the time.  

As for the Sudanese film industry, it was weak and presented in a rather narrow framework, limited to being screened in the Mobile Cinema just before the beginning of the steady emergence of cinemas in the city. The films shown focused on health education and fighting harmful habits. Among the pioneers of Sudanese Cinema at that time was the actor Othman Humaida, famous for "Thor al Jar fil Eyada" (The Bull in the Clinic). The film successfully screened across Sudan, in different states, cities and neighborhoods. 

Cinema AlKhawaja in Wad Madani City. Photo credits: Mohammed Omer for Andariya.

The Beginning of the End 

There are many factors that have led to the end of cinemas in the city since the seventies of the last century, including: the entry of television broadcasts into homes in the city, and the material presented on television becoming alluring and sometimes comparable to what was presented at the cinema. Television began to attract a large number of cinema-goers by replaying beloved films for the community. At this time, new cinemas such as Rudi and Amir began to treat the cinema as a capitalist project- far from the diversity of films that provided cultural material. The focus shifted to providing entertainment featuring Indian films and other titles that interested the public, which alienated the educated class further. 

Television broadcasting was futuristic in that era and was convenient for many; since they could watch movies from the comfort of their own home. To an extent, TV began to extinguish the passion for cinema and reduce its attractiveness, which lead to incurred losses for the owners of the two largest and oldest cinemas, Al-Khawaja and Al-Wataniya respectively. Yet TV remained the secondary factor; the main reason, as many contemporary moviegoers and residents of Wad Madani point out, was the introduction and enforcement of September laws and the subsequent complex political events that followed. When President Jafar Nimeiri implemented the laws of an Islamist political governance in September 1983, cinemas were not directly dealt with repression and did not close their doors during that time, rather the tax rates were raised by the government, and the government began interfering with the type of films that were presented. What were once called 'censorship scissors' became long and sharp that entire films lost their context through censorship if the film was not in line with the government's policies and whims - or they were flat-out prohibited. 

Cinema AlKhawaja in Wad Madani City. Photo credits: Mohammed Omer for Andariya.

The cinema's glow gradually began to fade away, especially with the educated class, as the films once appealing to them were now banned. They missed the cinematic productions that intrigued and discussed their issues and their beliefs, and gave space for their rebellion against issues afflicting internal and external societies such as racism, injustice and politics. This class represented the main body of moviegoers, especially at Al-Khawaja and AlWataniya cinemas and their disinterest was the beginning of the end of many years where evenings were full of art, culture, acculturation and knowledge exchange. Cinema was a way for all of that, but it was also a way to bring good revenue to the state, as it was a good economic resource. The laws implemented in September had a direct impact on this revenue. The cinemas in Wad Madani stopped keeping pace with the world in terms of form, capabilities, and themes and they began to bore the frequent viewer, ultimately losing the competition in a technologically driven world. Moviegoers and intellectuals did not respond to the changes in a positive manner. They were subjugated, and did not for example, create associations or initiatives to preserve cinemas and the cinematic art movement in the city. 

Cinema AlKhawaja in Wad Madani City. Photo credits: Mohammed Omer for Andariya.

What Remains Today 

Al-Khawaja and Al-Wataniya continued until the eighties of the last century and stopped completely at the end of the nineties.  During the rule of the Inqaz regime, cinemas were privatized, sold, demolished, abandoned, and the features of their identity obliterated, and converted into residential buildings, commercial buildings or deserted places, or random housing. For example, Rudi cinema became an old and neglected building inhabited by squatters, although it retains a few of its features such as terraces. Al-Khawaja cinema has seen the same fate and destruction, while Amir Cinema has been completely wiped out and its land converted into commercial buildings. 

Aspirations for the Return of Cinema 

In the past few years, there have been several steps to promote cinema, especially during the time of the governor Mohamed Tahir Aila. Youth were encouraged to restore Al Zamalek Cinema and even screen Sudanese films ranging from long and short fictional films to documentaries made and released by individuals, cultural groups, and cultural centers. Nonetheless, these shows were not popular and are nothing more than feeble youthful attempts, even if they were made with great effort during the time of the previous totalitarian regime to advance the film industry. Some Sudanese films were also discreetly screened in the city of Wad Madani, due to their controversial context. 

For cinema in Wad Madani to rise again, we must find solutions for the political, economic and social factors inflicted by the Bashir junta. Luckily, the city of Wad Madani remains home to resilient people- even if it has been disturbed for many years, and its people are capable of reviving all that was lost, including cinema. 

Cinema AlKhawaja in Wad Madani City. Photo credits: Mohammed Omer for Andariya.

This article is published as a part of a series covering how the Inqaz Regime shaped the Arts and Culture scene in Sudan over 30 years. The project is supported by the Arab Fund for Arts and CultureArab Council for Social Sciences and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Alaa Gamal

Alaa Gamal, a food manufacturing engineer, is an enthusiastic poet and writer. She had previously published for New Generation and Al-Warraq digital magazines. She published two books, a collection of short stories titled 'Reclining Water Wall' as a grant for Dar Al Arab (Egypt) and a second collection of poetry 'On the Edge of the Breakout of Belief' through Dar Al Lotus (Egypt). Alaa can often be found engaged and active in public work.