Suhaib Gasmelbari on “Talking About Trees”

I can say without hesitation that Talking About Trees was born from an epic yet real image that happened in front of my eyes.

It was the first time that I participated with the four friends in a screening at a village, after they set up the canvas screen and the show started, sandy wind began to blow moving the screen left and right, two of them (Manar and Ibrahim) quickly got up and sat on each side of the screen to anchor it down by tying both corners to their chairs; no one left despite the wind and the audience continued watching the film engagingly, as the wind strengthened the screen blew up and deflated like the sails of a small boat and sometimes the picture would go out of frame and come back; I was watching the faces of both men as they held the screen while laughing nervously like sail men in a storm. It was then when I felt that this casual trip to a nearby village to Khartoum granted me one of my most important existential lessons of resistance. It ignited the need to make the film.

This image that granted me the motivation to create this film will not be included in the film just like the many other images that these four cinematographers wanted to accomplish in the past forty years but the aggressive political winds of the country stood against them.

When I think of the film I think of these missing images, the images that aren’t present because they were erased before they became reality, leaving behind a great desire in doing and imagination.

Maybe to me the whole idea of the film is to tell, what can’t be seen because it was prohibited from being, and my hope is to make it tangible through the four characters and their devotion, their visible bitterness mixed with their witty sense of humor, through it I want to tell about their strong loyalty and love for cinema, this love “realized of desire still desiring” as once wrote the poet Rene Char.

Over the years that followed that trip I started to know them much deeper and in spite their different personal stories I came to notice that they share their conscious choice of taking difficult paths. They preferred to pay the price than to sell themselves to any authority, by that they kept their expensive freedom. They also share an inexhaustible faith in the value of deeds regardless of how small they appear to others; they are a different example and a necessary one in times dominated by the culture of consumption and narcissistic show.

It was clear to me from the beginning that it will not be a historical film about the Sudanese cinema. I have a great degree of predilection to what has been accomplished by those four in the past, and a strong love of their films and to their persistence to move and challenge in the present; this is why my choice was to tell the story with the focus on the present. I wanted for the rich past of the characters to be revealed through its remnants in the present and through their own films.

The fact that the film speaks about cinema in Sudan; it is naturally a film that criticizes the political state of Sudan where cinema halls were shut down, some were destroyed or transformed into storage spaces and parking lots for banks, one cinema became the office for the military’s radio station. But I don’t want this film to become a weeping story about the country’s situation and not to be a simplified and a belittling presentation of the deep, complex wounds of my homeland. I want the film to be loyal to the characters and their way in handling wounds delicately yet with perseverance.

The shooting of the film began in difficult times, as Sudan is a complex space to create a film that doesn’t go through official channels, the film also faced many technical and financial challenges; I’m grateful for Ibrahim, Manar, Sulieman and Altaib, they were able to transform all the doubts and the extremely difficult times to swings of laughter and a sarcastic resisting force of all difficulties.

About the Author

Suhaib Gasmelbari

Suhaib Gasmelbari was born in 1979 in Sudan. He studied Cinema in France at the University of Paris VIII. He has written and directed several short films, both fiction and documentary. Talking About Trees is his first feature film. He is also a researcher with a special focus on audio-visual archives. Through his research he was able to find some long-lost Sudanese films, and actively participates in international and local projects for saving and digitizing Sudanese films, including those of Ibrahim Shaddad, Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim and Altayeb Mahdi. Learn More