May 2014, living archive

The Film Holdings of Gadalla Gubara

For the second time now, Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art has been able to use funding from the German Foreign Office to realize a project aimed at preserving film holdings: the body of film work of Sudanese filmmaker Gadalla Gubara (1920–2008). Gadalla Gubara worked for over 50 years as a director of both features and documentaries. Until his death, he ran the first private film studio in Khartoum: Studio Gad. In light of both a lack of technical and financial resources and precarious storage conditions, advanced levels of material decay were threatening the very existence of this cinematic legacy. With funding from the German Foreign Office’s Cultural Heritage Program, the films were able to be digitized in Berlin in Autumn 2013. The archival holdings of the National Film Institute in Guinea-Bissau (INCA – Instituto Nacional de Cinema e Audiovisual) have already been digitized in 2012 as part of the "Animated Archive" project.

Gadalla Gubara is one of the less well-known pioneers of African cinema. He ran the first film studio in Sudan and was co-founder of both the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers FEPACI and the FESPACO festival (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso). His oeuvre spans feature films, reports, educational documentaries, advertising films and home movies. He documented Sudan’s political and social developments for over 50 years, from independence in 1956 via the phase of socialist government and its policy of modernization all the way through to the proclamation of the Islamic Republic in 1983.
In 1974, Gadalla Gubara founded Studio Gad as the first private film studio in Sudan. President Bashir’s rise to power in 1989 led to intellectuals being persecuted, which also led to drastic encroachments upon artistic freedom. Gubara’s film studio was confiscated by the army and he himself was incarcerated for a month. Gubara went blind while in custody due to not receiving the necessary medical supplies for his diabetes. Following a five-year legal battle led by his daughter Sara Gadalla Gubara, his studio was finally returned to him. Despite his loss of sight, Gadalla Gubara continued to work and shot his final film LES MISERABLES at the age of 87 with the help of his daughter Sara.

With funding from the German Foreign Office, a large part of the film holdings were able to be transported to Berlin in Autumn 2013 to be digitized. The University of Bergen, Norway, made a scanner available for this purpose. In the initial stage, a large proportion of the 16 and 35 mm positive and negative material was able to be registered and digitized. The positives included film prints and working prints as well as unedited footage. In most cases, it was only the film prints that had synchronous sound. A large part of the film holdings displays considerable material damage and often shows a strong red tinge. Several films from the archive have been so affected by vinegar syndrome or are so brittle that they can no longer be digitized. Extensive cataloging and appraisal of the film holdings as well as the creation of a digital archive is planned.

"The Film Holdings of Gadalla Gubara" is a project by Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art conceived and carried out by Nadja Korinth and Katharina von Schroeder in collaboration with Gubara family.

The project was made possible with funding from the Cultural Heritage Preservation Program of the German Foreign Office with the support of the German Embassy in Khartoum.

You can find further information about the project here.