The Rebel Puppeteers of Sudan
WINNER: BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY, FULL FRAME FESTIVAL
IN COMPETITION: HOT DOCS 2018
WATCH HERE https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000005431070/the-rebel-puppeteers-of-sudan.html
Documentary following the crew of "Bisha TV", a satirical puppet show that mocks the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and his cronies.
The writers, a mix of journalists and members of a drama group, met in the shade of a great mango tree. Fueled by sweet tea, they churned out scripts. Curious villagers gathered around the set during the first days of filming. When the crew unwrapped the puppets, the crowd collectively screamed. Children tripped over one another as they ran from an effigy of the president responsible for tormenting them. But the puppets, handmade in South Africa, were not designed to sustain Nuba’s heat, and the autocrats’ heads began to melt. The theatre of the absurd continued like this both on and off camera.
“Bisha TV” followed the lead of two other popular satirical African puppet shows: Kenya’s “XYZ Show” and South Africa’s “Zanews.” Both programs upset politicians and struggled to find broadcasters, but “Bisha TV” debuted in a far more hostile and restricted media climate. Journalists are regularly imprisoned and tortured in Sudan for reporting on wars and human rights abuses. Sudan is so rived by the conflict that news of these atrocities in the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and Blue Nile rarely reaches Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. While making this film, I took a surreal trip to Khartoum, where I met Sudanese who told me their country was at peace.
Widely shared on Facebook, “Bisha TV” sparked nationwide conversation. Many called the show defamatory. Others lauded its truths. Bisha’s online persona trolled without fear or favor. “Wonderful work,” one viewer commented. “Our patience is running out. Keep on track until we are free.” The Bisha Facebook account replied: “Who wrote this? Arrest them immediately!”
Europe and the U.S. are in the process of normalizing relations with Sudan, once a pariah state that hosted Osama bin Laden. Just before leaving office, President Barack Obama initiated the lifting of 20-year-old economic sanctions against Khartoum, citing improved counterterrorism efforts. Sudan sends troops to fight the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Over the past year, piecemeal cease-fires between the government and Sudan’s various rebel movements have delivered a tenuous peace. Still, humanitarian aid remains blocked in the Nuba Mountains, and refugees from Darfur are too wary to return home. “Bisha TV” is on hiatus, but the lessons of the show remain: Irreverence is resistance.
Text by Director of the film, Roopa Gogineni.