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TIFF 2014 Review: ‘Beats of the Antonov’ Finds A New Perspective From Which To Explore The Civil War In Sudan

TIFF 2014 Review: 'Beats of the Antonov' Finds A New Perspective From Which To Explore The Civil War In Sudan

Beats of the Antonov” succeeds where other documentaries and
narrative films about war and suffering on the African continent often fail, in
that it finds a new, genuinely interesting perspective from which to explore a
complex situation. The directorial debut of Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, the
film is a portrait of refugees of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains affected by
the the civil war in Sudan, using their strong cultural ties to music and dance
as a way of telling their stories. 

The title refers to the Russian-manufactured Antonov planes
used by the Sudanese government, which rain down bombs targeted towards rebels
but in the process destroy the homes and lives of Sudanese villagers without
discrimination. The film opens with one such horrific bombing, followed minutes
later by a kind of spiritual musical moment, as the villagers gather in the
wake of carnage in celebration of life. 

This is a story
about the Sudanese, told by the Sudanese – Kuka uses fly-on-the-wall footage of
the revelry of the refugees, interspersed with simply shot interviews with not
just experts and intellectuals like the Sudanese-born music scholar Sarah
Abunama-Elgadi, but both civilians and soldiers alike.

It’s through
these interviews that the viewer gains further insight into the identity crisis
that Sudan is facing, the push-pull between Arab and African and the
implications of embracing one or the other. Never editorializing, Kuka presents
all sides – from those Sudanese eager to embrace both an African and Arab identity,
to those willing to erase their Africanness and therefore their blackness – one
young woman intimately reveals how she lightens her skin in order to look “more
Arab.”

It isn’t the
beats of the bombs falling from the sky, but the beats of the traditional
Sudanese music lovingly showcased here that above all else, makes this
documentary so uniquely captivating. It isn’t very surprisingly that the film
won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at TIFF, beating out Ethan
Hawke’s “Seymour: An Introduction” and the much buzzed about “Do I Sound Gay?”

Kuka has crafted
a deeply personal but also deeply enlightening record of a situation that so
many of think we know but don’t truly understand. It may be a cliché concept,
but the music here really is a kind of universal language, brilliantly and
beautifully conveying a kind of national identity that is as diverse as it is
distinct. 

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