Cinema returns to Somalia after decades of closures and conflict
MOGADISHU, September 23 (Reuters) – Dozens of Somalis posed for selfies and chatted enthusiastically in rows of plush red seats as they wait for their country’s first film screening to begin in three decades.
Among the crowd at the National Theater was Kaif Jama, 24, screenwriter and star of the two films on the program – the horror story “Hoos”, about a single woman moving into an empty house, and a not-so-romantic comedy called “Date from Hell”.
“It means something to everyone, including me. It’s to all Somalis who want to make movies,” said Jama, wearing a traditional Somali dress striped in silver, yellow and green.
She left Somalia at the age of six and moved between Kenya and Uganda before settling in Cairo at the age of 19.
Since then, she has directed 60 short films and sketches with Somali filmmaker Ibrahim CM.
Somalis have spent years watching Indian and Arab films on their televisions, she said. “But if our own films make it to theaters and television, then each Somali person and child will be shaped and influenced by their own culture.”
The National Theater, a gift from Chinese Mao Zedong, opened in 1967.
It has become an important hotbed for Somalia’s rich storytelling tradition, hosting plays, musical extravagances and, in the 1980s, Pan-African film festivals.
After the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, the warlords of the clans bombarded each other with anti-aircraft guns and fought for the theater, which served as their base. The building was hit so many times that the roof collapsed a year after the start of the conflict.
Islamist militants who took control in 2006 took over the building. They banned all forms of public entertainment – from concerts to football games – which they considered sinful.
African Union peacekeeping troops regained control of the capital in 2011 and the new West-backed Somali government reopened the site the following year. But just three weeks after that, a suicide bomber from the Islamist insurgency al Shabaab struck in a ceremony, killing six people. The building reopened in 2020.
Hassan Abdulahi Mohamed, a resident of Mogadishu, remembers spending half a Somali shilling on a movie ticket and one shilling on theater snacks in the 1960s.
“The last time I watched movies at the cinema was in 1991,” he said.
Report by Abdirahman Hussein; Writing by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Andrew Heavens
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