Sudan has entered the Academy Awards race for the first time with the selection of Amjad Abu Alala’s You Will Die at Twenty as the country’s first Best International Feature Film submission for the 2021 Academy Awards. Only the eighth film in the history of Sudanese cinema, the film was conceived and produced just as the Sudanese revolution was unfolding.
Coming at a time when the country was already witnessing a historic rebirth, the film’s submission by Sudan for Oscar consideration now marks a significant moment in the country’s cultural landscape and opens doors for a new wave of local filmmakers yearning to have their stories, voices and perspectives embraced by audiences back at home and abroad.
Set in a Sudanese village, You Will Die at Twenty opens with a mother who gives birth to Muzamil, a boy cursed by a Dervish prophecy that he will die at 20. Muzamil grows up surrounded by looks of sympathy, until Suleiman, a cinematographer who has worked in the city, returns. Suleiman’s cinema projector opens a window to a new world for Muzamil. In time, he comes to doubt the prophecy. When his 20th birthday arrives, he is torn between death and a bus to the world he is eager to know about.
Premiering at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival’s parallel section Venice Days (Le Giornate degli Autori) to positive reviews hailing the film’s themes, direction and performances, You Will Die at Twenty nabbed the Lion of the Future (Luigi De Laurentiis) for Best First Feature, becoming the first Sudanese film to ever do so. The film went on to win over 20 awards at international film festivals worldwide and is still enjoying a healthy festival circuit run.
Produced by Andolfi (France), Transit Films (Egypt), DUOfilm (Norway), Die Gesellschaft DGS (Germany) ,and coproduced by Film-Clinic and Station Films , the film is a Sudan, France, Egypt, Germany, Norway, Qatar co-production and marks Abu Al Alala’s foray into feature filmmaking after several successful short films. Pyramide is handling international sales.
Commenting on the Oscar submission, Abu Alala described the decision by Sudan’s newly AMPAS-approved selection committee as ‘a historic beacon of hope.’ “You Will Die at Twenty is only the eighth feature film ever produced in Sudan. It’s unthinkable that a country of incredibly rich heritage and deeply rooted culture has only yielded eight films in over a hundred years. Ultimately, this is a film that addresses a country grappling with its oppressive past and coming to terms with how moving forward can only take place once we find a genuine purpose that speaks to who we really want to be, and what we’re truly capable of. In escaping blind compliance and discovering the beautiful opportunities that lie ahead, our present and future will only soar to much greater heights than we could have ever imagined.” He continued: “I hope You Will Die at Twenty serves as a reminder for both local and international filmmaking communities of the incredible potential of Sudan’s storytellers. I’m so proud to represent the country in its first-ever International Feature Oscar race – but I’m absolutely certain I won’t be the last.”