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Film Review: Abu Haraz

May 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm

When the Merowe Dam was built on the Nile in Sudan, life for the villagers of Abu Haraz would change forever

In the small village of Abu Haraz in northern Sudan, life appears to continue as normal. A fisherman negotiates his way between palm trees on the River Nile, women make flat bread on an open oven and siblings fight by the water.

But since the construction of the Merowe Dam some five years ago, none of this exists any more. The boats and ovens are under 35 metres of water, thanks to the building of an artificial lake that flooded the community out of their homes.

For seven years Polish filmmaker Maciej Drygas followed the daily lives of the community who once lived there as they fight eviction, to when they leave behind their ancestral land and sense of identity.

The product is a visual testimony of a land that has been wiped off the map and no longer exists – Abu Haraz will be screened at the Frontline Club next Monday, followed by a Q&A with the director, as part of the 12th Polish Film Festival, Kinoteka.

Throughout the documentary the villagers say little, but when they do it is poetic and thoughtful. This, combined with long scenes and a slow pace makes the film seem like a dream, or a memory.

“I dreamt that ghosts came to visit me and began to complain,” says one villager. “They said our village will soon be deserted and it will be impossible to live there. I asked why? They said water would soon flood the entire area. Suddenly one of the ghosts came rushing towards me. And then I woke up.”

In one scene men wearing white jalabiyas and matching turbans gather by a loud speaker, from which a crackled voice speaks of the importance of the Nile. But despite their clear attachment to the land the community are displaced to unfamiliar territory, which is not their home.

One of the most disturbing parts of the film depicts villagers knocking down their own houses to guarantee that that they will not return. “But I’ll remember every house and every palm all my life,” says a member of the community. “Even if I went blind I would find this place, which is my home land.”

In the new town of Wadil El-Muqqadam the food is strange and everything feels artificial. One villager doesn’t know which direction to pray towards or how find the right stars to understand what season it is. “In Abu Haraz I sowed by the Scorpius constellation,” he says.

Whilst the Merowe Dam was built with the promise to double electricity output for Sudan, it is unlikely this community saw any of its benefits – most of it was taken to Khartoum and other big cities to be sold at commercial rates.

Abu Haraz is a story of tradition and culture versus economics, power and money. It is a story of pain, loss, despair and the displacement of a community whose lives rarely make it into the news.