Under high security, Somalia hosted its first film screening in 30 years, as the conflict-torn country seeks cultural renewal. The event took place at Somalia’s National Theatre, which has a history that symbolizes the country’s arduous journey.
In 1967, the National Theatre, a gift from Mao Zedong of China, opened its doors. It became a vital hub for Somalia’s rich storytelling heritage, hosting plays, musical extravaganzas, and pan-African film festivals in the 1980s. However, following the ouster of President Siad Barre in 1991, clan-based warlords fought over the theatre, which they used as a base. The building was hit so many times during the conflict that the roof collapsed a year later.
The structure was taken over by militants who seized control of it in 2006. They outlawed all sorts of public entertainment that they deemed sinful, from concerts to football matches.
On rows of crimson, plush seats, dozens of Somalis posed for selfies and chattered excitedly as they awaited the start of their country’s first movie screening in three decades. Kaif Jama, 24, the star and writer of both films on the programme – the horror story Hoos, about a single woman moving into an empty house, and the not-so-romantic comedy Date from Hell – was among the guests in attendance at the National Theatre.
“This has significance for everyone, including me. It is for everyone who wants to make movies in Somalia, “Jama remarked. She left Somalia when she was six years old and resided between Kenya and Uganda until settling in Cairo at 19. She’s collaborated on 60 short films and skits with Somali filmmaker Ibrahim CM since then.
She says that Somalis have spent years watching Indian and Arab films on television. “However, if our films are shown in theatres and on television, every Somali person and child will be shaped and influenced by their own culture.”