Sitting in the Goethe Institute's garden on a mellow, winter morning, renowned Iraqi director Kasim Abid told In Sudan what he was teaching Sudanese film students -- the need for vision as well as technique.
Kasim Abid – who divides his time between London and Baghdad – arrived in early January at the invitation of the German cultural centre in Khartoum to hold an intensive documentary filmmaking workshop for aspiring Sudanese participants.
It was his second time in the country, Mr. Abid said, as he had first visited Sudan in November 2008 to show his awardwinning, two-hour-long documentary Life After the Fall, which recounts his return to Iraq and his family after some 30 years abroad.
Along with his own work, the director has also presented some of his students' documentaries at the Independent Film and Television College in Baghdad, a school he founded with his colleague Maysoon Pachachi, which spurred the idea of the Khartoum filmmaking workshop.
Even though application was restricted to people under 30 years old, more than 85 people signed up to attend the workshop, which was scheduled to run for three months, with theoretical and practical classes five times a week.
The principle behind the course was "to give students a guideline on how to make a documentary film ... starting from the idea and ending with the story on screen," Mr. Abid said.
Of 23 selected students, most were graduates of art schools and had various story ideas, including a portrait of local artists or of the lives of two Nuba wrestlers.
A female student's proposal for a Khartoum tea ladies story, however, had to be dropped."We received information that this is a red line," the director said, and that crossing it could have jeopardized not only the workshop but the institute's reputation as well.
Certain subjects had to be avoided, the filmmaker said, adding that life was full of stories to be overed and the message could be conveyed in an indirect way.
"Cinema is a language ... and you can play with (it) and get away with a lot of things,"Mr. Abid said.
His Sudanese students were bright and committed, but in some ways might start off handicapped due to the lack of cinemas in the Sudanese capital, he noted.
"Cinema develops from watching as well ... you develop your taste from watching (films) – you can learn a lot," the director said, explaining that filmmaking was a long process involving knowledge of the history and styles of cinema and different movements.
Sudanese students might have had little exposure to such background and were still searching for the most dynamic and original ideas suitable for documentaries, Mr. Abid said. They were committed, however, and "want to learn and do something".
As he once told the British newspaper The Independent, one of his favourite Chinese proverbs advised, "Light a candle instead of cursing the dark." Whether or not the Sudanese were ready to act for change,
Mr. Abid said he wished elections would "achieve something positive ... to give some sort of freedom of expression to the people (so that they can express themselves) without fear".
Enabling young minds to speak out, however, had to go hand-in-hand with educational reform, the filmmaker believed, as students needed to learn how to think critically.
The education system in Iraq and across the Arab world was based on dictation and memorizing materials up to this day, Mr. Abid said, remembering an event from his personal life that turned out to be a revelation.
His then six-year-old daughter asked him to take her to the library, where she needed to search for books related to a school assignment. Partly she was playing with the books but she also took notes, the director said.
"This is how you learn to use your mind, how to find your idea, to have a vision about reality."
Through theory and practice, he was aiming to teach his Sudanese students how to develop their own way of thinking and take a critical viewpoint, without being limited to strictly religious or political thinking.
"You won't be a filmmaker unless you open your mind ... and have a vision of reality." Eszter Farkas