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53 minutes, 2001, Sudan / United Kingdom
Producer/Director: Arthur Howes and Amy Hardie
in Nuba with English subtitles

Kafi's Story and Nuba Conversations, two films shot in the same places by the same filmmaker only ten years apart, offer an opportunity to measure the full devastation of Africa's civil wars. They expose a human rights tragedy of epic proportions which has remained invisible to the rest of the world: the deliberate destruction of the ancient Nuba civilization by the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Sudan. This conflict is emblematic of how viable societies from Somalia to Sierra Leone have been swept away in carnage leaving only bands of armed combatants and refugee camps in their wake.

Shot in 1989, Kafi's Story captures Nuba life at the moment before it was engulfed in the Sudanese civil war. Kafi narrates his own story into a portable tape record as he travels from his village, Torogi, to Khartoum to earn enough money to buy a new dress for his second wife, Tete. His journey begins among the granite outcroppings in south central Sudan which has preserved the Nuba way of life for millennia against invaders from the North: the Kushite kingdoms, Arab slave traders and, more recently, the fundamentalist Sudanese regime.

Unlike the "unspoiled" Nuba mythologized in Leni Reifenstahl's celebrated coffee table books, Kafi is quite consciously negotiating his own path between modernity and tradition. In Khartoum, Kafi is initially amazed that the buildings seem "as big as mountains" yet he and other Nuba immigrants adjust to back-breaking factory work, going to Indian movies and relaxing on their days off on the banks of Nile. The lure of the city also puts stress on Nuba society; it's never certain whether the men will return from the city and Kafi has doubts about the fidelity of his first wife back home. Now that the Nuba have become so dispersed, Kafi says he does not know where the Nuba are. Kafi and the other Nuba react to the presence of the camera with neither awe nor apprehension; they seem to welcome the camera as an extension of their open, out-going, hospitable lifestyle. At the same time, they rapidly become sophisticated about the way film conventions can frame reality. When a friend walks away from a shot, they joke that he is walking into the screen, like a cowboy striding into the sunset. At the film's end Kafi asks the filmmaker for one thing: a camera of his own.

There are ominous signs everywhere that Kafi's plans for a home and family, may not be realized: Sudanese soldiers are camped near the village; the harsh Islamic sharia law is being imposed on the more relaxed Nuba. Kafi ends the story with a touching formal farewell to the future viewers who having traveled so far with him will ask "where is Kafi now?" He could not have realized how poignant that remark would become; less than a month after filming stopped, Torogi was a battle zone.
"A film about an ordinary person in the so called ‘third world’ seen mainly through his eyes. An amazing documentary!"
BBC Documentary Award
"A unique documentary this genuinely intimate portrait of life in present-day Sudan is hypnotically absorbing."
The Guardian

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