Since the start of the Sudanese mass protests against the government in December 2017, hundreds of people have been arrested and dozens killed by the security forces. According to Zein, the international media is remaining silent and there is no political pressure.

Zein says that for her personally, it was not easy to make this film. She originally planned to make a five-minute short film about women's football for a women's rights organisation, but she was so fascinated by the subject that she spent three years working on it. "Throughout all that time, I never once got a permit to film. I couldn't even buy one," she adds, referring to the rampant corruption in Sudan, which ranks 172nd of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

To make matters even more difficult, there is no infrastructure for film funding or support in Sudan. It is a pity, especially as Zein is a successful young women, who graduated from film school in Cairo and has worked with well-known Arab directors. She would be a real poster child for her country.

Instead, she is a thorn in the side of the Sudanese government, as are the protagonists in her film, Sara and her fellow campaigners, who are fighting for their rights as women footballers. They are certainly talented and would love to both play in a national league and test themselves in international tournaments.

A young generation rises up

Demonstrating against President Bashir in Khartoum on 20 January 2019 (photo: Reuters)
Surely newsworthy: in Sudan, thousands of people have been taking to the streets against the government since mid-December. The protests were triggered by a significant rise in bread prices after the authorities cut subsidies for flour. The government has violently suppressed the demonstrations. According to government figures, 31 people have been killed since 19 December, but Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 51 have died

The FIFA Women's World Cup will take place in France this year. But to get there, these Sudanese footballers would have to do more than just qualify on the pitch. They would also have to overcome the obvious corruption they are fighting. After all, there is enough money coming from FIFA to support women's football in Sudan.

But apart from making regular promises, the men of the Sudan Football Association do nothing. "You need a league with eight teams," they say, but the setting up of a league has been prohibited in a ruling by the country's most senior Islamic legal scholars. The players had hoped that elections in the Sudan Football Association would bring about some change, but to their dismay, the same people are voted in again and again.

These confident young women reject the rigid policies of the government, which systematically deprive women of their rights. They make fun of the autocratic laws and the corrupt rule of the old men in Sudan.

Sara dreams of reviving a bar in Khartoum that her family ran in South Sudan until the turmoil of the Second World War. But this plan too stumbles at the hurdle of rampant corruption. And her plan to serve local beer in her bar is even more of a distant dream.

"These women are incredibly courageous," says Marwa Zein. "They want to overcome the system and they truly believe in their own power." With her film, she also wants to change the cliche-ridden perception of Sudan and help overcome the country's political misery.

She would love to screen her film in Sudan, "in the places where I filmed. But also in the west, in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains." There are certainly enough young people who want to see change. This is borne out by the most recent protests in country.

Rene Wildangel

© 2019

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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