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Review: The Beats of Antonov

BY DANICA HANSEN

Beats of the Antonov tell the story of the Sudanese refugees as they beat the odds with music. Sudanese director, Hajooj Kuka and South African Producer, Steven Markovitz collaborate on this amazing story from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains - Danica Hansen tunes in with director, Hajooj Kuka.

 

“The reason I made this film is music”, says Sudanese director HajoojKuka, who tells a concise story in just 65 minutes, setting this documentary apart and making it a truly captivating piece of cinema.The ‘Antonov’ of the film's title is the airplane that frequently visits the Nubba Mountains – dropping bombs that obliterate homes and cloud the air with smoke – in the on-going battle between the Sudanese government and the Liberation movement. The ‘beat of the Antonov’ is a well-known sound to the Sudanese.The film discusses the attacks made by Islamist President Omar al-Bashirm, with little more said about politics. Addressing the topic of the involvement of foreign aid in this country echoes a developing theme which I have seen in The Siren of Faso Fani, The Shore Break, The Yes Men are Revolting and Virunga.

With dramatic war scenes and loveable close ups of the people, the film adopts a broad scope of life as a refugee. Kuka shows us smiling people and joyful dances, like no other war story. In a way this up-beat take is more real than the solemn escapades one might expect from a war torn place. Kuka said that the UN did not receive his camera well, but he didmanage to sneak in some footage of the refugee camp. Kuka captured the war zone footage himself, saying that he was involved with a training program that allowed him access to the fire zone. He admits that he “didn’t know what was happening”, and that soldiers led him through the conflict.

The resilience of the Sudanese only makes their plight more heart-breaking. When one's livelihood hangs in the balance, solidarity is all there is. As one of Kuka’s interviewees says, "War is good and bad. It makes people more attached to their culture".Identity crisis is also at the core of the conflict. The film exposes racial prejudices in lightening creams that women use to look more Arab and school children trying to learn in Arab while their mother tongue wastes away from lack of use.  One of Kuka's interviewees laments that the Sudanese identity crisis results from a people who exalt their Arab father but forget their African mother. Of this, music ethnologist Sarah Mohammad suggests that the idea that black is beautiful “Has not yet reached Sudan”.

While Sudanese may identify their Arab father as the ideal of beauty, their music is totally their own.  Mohammad points out, “there is no barrier between the musician and the audience in Sudan”. Mohammad notes that 'girl’s music' is a uniquely Sudanese strand of music, which is all over Sudan. Instead of mimicking famous artists, girls make up their own lyrics and sing about everything. Anyone can write a song, anyone can beat the drum and 'Girl's music' doesn’t take the ownership of the music away from the singer. As one of Kuka's interviewees says, “art helps to define identity”. Perhaps it is with music that this war will come to an end.

Sincere, warm and colourful.Beats of the Antonov ends on a defiant note.

 

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation,, KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.

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