DIFF REVIEW: War and harmony

2015-07-21 13:24

Film: Beats of the Antonov
Director: Hajooj Kuka
Beats of the Antonov is a film that documents the Sudan–Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) conflict in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile.

Hajooj Kuka focuses on the role that traditional music has played to help bring some sort of harmony to the refugees of the war. It’s a tool that allows access to the other issues they face.

Beats of the Antonov opens with families running to take cover after a village is hit by bombs, usually dropped by planes (called Antonovs). We then see how people in the Blue Nile celebrate surviving death – they laugh it off.

Before we even get used to it, we are immersed in the sounds of the people.

We meet their artists, their ambitions and aspirations, and learn why music means so much to them. Kuka paints a picture of music, culture and identity in times of war.

He presents the community as one that has gotten used to the bombings, they are part of the routine. They sing and dance in the night as they wait for president Omar al-Bashir’s planes to come.

“If a plane attacked while people are sleeping, it would be devastating,” says the narrator.

It is the music that keeps them alert throughout the night.

In a recent interview, Kuka said the importance of music, dance and laughter was to show the world that despite what Sudan has gone through, they can still afford happiness.

And we see the high spirit throughout the film – through wrestling celebrations and various jam sessions where music comes from instruments made out of metallic pipes, saucepans and plastic bags.

Unlike many other films on African crises, Beats of the Antonov doesn’t dwell so much on the fighting but rather a way the community reacts to the crisis.

“Our songs are dedicated to the people of the Blue Nile and all the displaced in Sudan from Nuba Mountains to Darfur,” says a musician.

In many of the performances captured by Kuka there’s no clear separation between the artists and the audience – the audience is part of the music and the music is part of the audience.

Music is portrayed as a tool of resistance against Arabisation that many people in the film blame on Bashir, the president in the North. It untaps African traditions and leads to a focus on cultural identity.

In one of the scenes, Sarah Mohamed, a Sudanese ethnomusicologist, notes that, unlike colonially-influenced identities in urban Khartoum, the Blue Nile is “a Sudan that is happy and lives a normal life”. 

But even with their resilience, Kuka manages to show the audience the effects of the war on the people. Some have developed a self-hate – the kind of mentality that if they looked different, no one would be attacking them.

Some women have applied creams that will make their skin complexions lighter, yet even so, none of them wishes the same for their sons or daughters.

Ultimately Beats of the Antonov is speaking to Africans that have forgotten their culture. 

* The documentary screens again on July 21 at 8pm at Suncoast Cinecentre and July 23 at the Musgrave Cinema at 10pm
Talents Press is a programme of Talents Durban at the Durban International Film Festival which sees 40  film makers from Africa and the diaspora gather for 5 days of workshops, seminars and masterclasses

Every year City Press publishes the best reviews from Talents Press, which is part of the training programme Talents Durban at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) , attended by 40  film makers from Africa and the diaspora. At Talents Press young film critics get to sharpen their reviewing skills.

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