FILM IN REVIEW: Talking About Trees
We are pleased to introduce our new resident film writer, Jim Norman, who will be bringing you insightful previews of upcoming films at Studio 74. Alongside his existing blog, On Film, these new articles will delve into the programme of our independent cinema to offer new perspectives.
‘Once upon a time in the land of cinema’, sings one of the four elderly members of the Sudanese Film Group about whom this documentary follows. Director Suhaib Gasmelbari here pays a fitting tribute not only to the groups’ rich filmmaking past, but also to the state of Sudan in the present. It is a simple film which follows the group’s desire to reopen a cinema and once again bring film back into Sudan, yet it packs a powerful punch. Through beautifully patient cinematography, Gasmelbari is able to provide an intimate look into the minds of the four Sudanese filmmakers and tell a tale that exemplifies perseverance in the face of adversity.
“A fitting tribute not only to the group’s rich filmmaking past, but also to the state of Sudan in the present.”
It is these central figures that hold the entire project together. I struggle to recall a more visceral example of perseverance than that which is seen between the four elderly filmmakers striving to bring the joys of cinema back to their community. These lives are partly captured through displays of the filmmakers’ previous works yet Talking about Trees prefers to hold focus on the present; the past is there to be remembered, not relived. There is a keen reliance on the spoken word, with the four men turning to old letters and pictures in order to provoke discussions about a simpler time.
This conviviality is charming to watch, immediately drawing the audience in through the men’s touching fondness for one another and allowing the film to take its natural course without needing to wait for us to catch up.
“I struggle to recall a more visceral example of perseverance than that which is seen between the four elderly filmmakers striving to bring the joys of cinema back to their community.”
Alongside these conversations sits moments of comfortable silence. The film possesses a quiet patience in its cinematography that provides it with the ability to simply watch life go by in order to tell its story. One scene captures two of the men being forced to manually hold up their projection screen in order to stop it blowing away and ending one of their local screening sessions. This image of determination is what firmly roots the film as a modern-day necessity. Whilst background newsreels show a dictatorship in full force, the foreground is occupied by examples of passion and community spirit.
Reflecting on his country’s dictatorship, Manar, a member of the film group, poetically notes that ‘talking about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors.’ In focussing on cinema, a topic that many would seek to deem insignificant when positioned amidst stories of the state of Sudan, Gasmelbari is effectively ‘talking about trees’. What this small subject matter demonstrates is the impact of the seemingly trivial. The film does not need to provide an in-depth analysis on the country’s dictatorship; on its oppression under the weight of colonialism; nor on its political and social injustices, for all of these themes are made visible through the lives of real people.
Talking about Trees is not wholly about cinema, nor is it wholly about Sudan. It is a showcase of a group of driven individuals who will seemingly do anything to achieve their dream of bringing cinema to the masses. It is both informative and touching, allowing the audience 93 minutes in the company of a group of genuine heroes.“
Talking About Trees is screening at Exeter Phoenix’s solar-powered cinema Studio 74 on Sun 16 & Tue 19 Feb. Find out more about the film and pick up tickets here >>