Transition & film

The future of football in Sudan is (also) female

IMS caught up with Marwa Zein, the director of award winning documentary Khartoum Offside, for a talk on gender discrimination in football, the New Sudan and the rise in international attention on Sudanese cinema

Khartoum Offside is Sudanese director Marwa Zein’s first feature documentary film. Since the global premiere during this year’s Berlinale Forum the film has garnered awards and special mentions in numerous international film festivals against the backdrop and accelerating momentum of the non-violent civil disobedience movement, which culminated in the downfall of Sudan’s Islamist-led military dictatorship in April 2019.

Sudanese film director and producer Marwa Zein was born in Saudi Arabia and has lived in Egypt.

The film depicts a group of exceptional young ladies in Khartoum, determined to play football professionally. They are prepared to defy the ban imposed by Sudan’s Islamic Military government and they will not take no for an answer. Their battle to get officially recognized as Sudan’s National Woman’s team is fearless and courageous. Viewers follow their moments of hope and deception.

“Football was a way for me to express the oppression that women and girls of Sudan have been subjected to since 1989. Football was for me and the girls (of the team), a way to refuse oppressive systems, and for me to rebel against the system as a film director. It is my right and the right of all filmmakers to express themselves,” says Marwa Zein.

The film has helped raise international awareness on the political, ethnic and socioeconomic realities in Sudan prior to and propelling the uprisings. Additionally, it showcases the resilience and resistance of a diverse group of Sudanese female athletes confronting gender discrimination in football.

This new situation is in stark contrasts to the circumstances under which Marwa Zein shot the film. Just read the opening statement below:

‘Under the current political Islamic military rule, women are not allowed to play football in Sudan, and we are not allowed to make films- but,…’

Prelude to Khartoum Offside

Fast forward to 2nd October 2019, where Sudan’s first women’s soccer league was launched. Described by the BBC as history being made and a “sight virtually unimaginable under the rule of President Omar Bashir after the country adopted Islamic rule.”

As of the possible link between Khartoum Offside and the launch of the Sudanese women’s football league, Marwa Zein says;. “I have no knowledge about whether the Sudanese league has seen Khartoum Offside. The film has not yet been screened in Sudan. The Sudanese diaspora in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Europe have seen it. I hope that Khartoum Offside is part of realising the team’s dreams and projects.”

Khartoum Offside has not been the only notable Sudanese film to premiere in 2019. Other titles include Suhaib Gasmelbari’s Talking of Trees, and Amjad Abu Alala’s You Will Die at Twenty, but none have yet been screened in Sudan.

When asked if screenings are scheduled, Zain responded “It is still in process, and still unconfirmed. My hope is for the film to be screened not only in the capital Khartoum, but in the provinces and cities outside of Khartoum.”

“When I return to Sudan, it will be to screen the film without censorship and without the threat of arrest,” she says. “My hope is for this to be the beginning for a real New Sudan, a real civil state. I know it is the beginning. The path for change is long and we have to be patient. I know our circumstances in Sudan are difficult, but we are on the right track.”

Sudan’s efforts to rehabilitate its position in the international community was underlined during the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2019, where Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok signed the Global Pledge to Defend Media Freedom, declaring “Never again in the new Sudan will a journalist be repressed or jailed. Historically we used to have this (free media). We lost it for 30 years, but I think it is coming back.”

Sudanese film director and producer Marwa Zein was born in Saudi Arabia and has lived in Egypt. She graduated from High Cinema Institute in Cairo and is an Alumnus of Berlinale Talent, IDFA Academy & Durban Talent
She founded her own production company, ORE Productions, which is based in Khartoum, Sudan. ‘Khartoum Offside’ is her first feature documentary.