Stories from the Sudan is the second work in a series of three films (with Albino and The Convert, the Rapper and the Country), which partly reflect on the problematics of my presence as a film maker in a foreign context.
In Stories from the Sudan the camera mostly focusses on Floor, a young woman who plays herself, during our travels through Sudan together in the summer of 2002. Staged in our often grubby, cheap hotel rooms, she lies on the bed, dresses and un-dresses, smokes cigarettes and, when outside, interacts a little with the local people in the villages we visit.
Apart from filming her, I filmed the places we passed through: a camel market, an overnight train ride in the desert, villagers in the early morning chill. These touristic images coincide with another story, recounted only in subtitles: the testimony of an anonymous Eritrean refugee, as it was recorded at the UNHCR in Cairo that same year, but rejected by the authorities, for being untrustworthy.
The two stories share locality, not perspective.
Where Floor has the freedom to observe, to be a little bored, and to do whatever she pleases, the anonymous refugee is preoccupied with movement: crossing the hostile environment of the Sudanese desert to get to presumed safety in Egypt.
Floor has no voice. She doesn't speak. Instead, she is but a body, often scarcely dressed, inhabiting a world of bedrooms which is at once familiar–because of her presence– and alienating, because of their quality. Floor is subject to the male gaze. The camera sees her because of what she represents: a beautiful white woman in an exotic context.
The images and the subtitles sometimes seem to work together, and when the text accounts of violence and fear, we project the emotions onto Floor. But her face is expressionless, as she is untouched by the events in the sub-titles. They are not hers.
At one point though, she is filmed waking up in a sleeping bag, right next to a truck. In the next shot, a local man looks straight into the camera, in an extreme close-up, connecting the two images, as if he is looking at her. Floor is looked at, vulnerable on the floor in her sleeping bag, the man looks, while towering over her. There is a moment of contact, in which the viewer is implicated, because the look at Floor is at the same time a look into the camera, at the audience.
The film centers around questions of representation. Is Floor just a woman, travelling? Is it innocent? Or is her character in the film somehow a provocation, in relation to the account of the anonymous person we read and the violence / oppression they speak of? Or can Floor be a stand-in for the anonymous refugee? Does she comment on a tradition of travelogues? In a way, the images precede the now common language of Instagram, making the private public, and forging a connection between various 'selves' and the narratives that circulate in a wider context.