Shining a spotlight on South Sudanese film: the Juba Film Festival

A festival without cinemas: films are shown outside, in residential neighbourhoods.

A festival without cinemas: films are shown outside, in residential neighbourhoods., © Federal Foreign Office

19.02.2020 - Article

A film festival in a country without cinemas: in December, the fourth Juba Film Festival was held in the capital of South Sudan. It provides a platform for young local filmmakers. The festival received funding from the Federal Foreign Office.

Screening venues: residential neighbourhoods

The young filmmakers are united in their desire for peace.
The young filmmakers are united in their desire for peace.© Federal Foreign Office

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan only in 2011, and much in the country is still under development. This includes the film industry. The youngest country in the world may not have any cinemas, but it does have a film festival. Films are screened after dusk, mostly in residential areas or on the university campus.

The festival was established in 2016 by South Sudanese filmmaker Simon Bingo, and in December 2019 it went into its fourth edition. It was a remarkable success. Some 22,000 people attended screenings at the festival’s nine venues. One of these drew so many visitors that the existing loudspeaker system was not sufficient for the size of the audience. Additional speakers were quickly brought in from the surrounding neighbourhood.

A strong desire for peace

The festival not only provides entertainment, but also encourages local filmmakers to tell traditional tales and showcase the young country’s culture. The South Sudanese contributions have a common overriding theme: finally achieving peace in South Sudan. The festival displays how the South Sudanese hope to live in a society that respects people and their rights.

It is also an opportunity to tell positive stories from South Sudan, as Simon Bingo, the festival’s director, explains:

We want local filmmakers to be able to make good and high‑quality films – films that meet a high enough standard so that we can participate in other festivals in Europe, the United States, Kenya, or anywhere else. That way, we can present an image of South Sudan there, too.

The Juba Film Festival: a joyful and festive award ceremony.
The Juba Film Festival: a joyful and festive award ceremony.© Federal Foreign Office

The three‑day festival featured a total of 46 films, and it concluded with the awarding of prizes in a wide range of categories. Germany was also represented at the festival, with the documentary Train to Freedom, which was directed by Sebastian Dehnhardt and Matthias Schmidt and tells a story in connection with the fall of the Wall and German reunification.

The United Nations peace mission in South Sudan is now partnering with the festival. It will bring films from all four of its editions that address the topic of human rights to the provinces, so that these can be screened at other locations.

Funding from the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut

Germany has provided 11,000 euros in funding for the festival. It is a small amount, but it has made a big difference: without this funding, the festival could not have been held. The Goethe-Institut in Ethiopia, which is also responsible for South Sudan, supported further-training seminars for filmmakers in the run‑up to the festival.


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