An Interview with Hajooj Kuka (Director)
One’s Own Identity Tied to Music and Dance
Q: It was quite striking how you conveyed local people performing music and dance throughout the film, while also portraying the complicated political circumstances in Sudan. Why did you decide to focus on music?
HK: The theme of this film is deeply rooted in the problem of identity. I wanted to convey that through some kind of image. So I made music and dance the main characters of the film. I think everyone already has various views on Sudan, but I’d also like them to have a view like the one this film presents. I want to leave viewers with images of Sudan’s people making music and dancing.
Q: For those of us in Japan, the truth is that Sudan evokes the image of a conflict zone. What do you make of that kind of association?
HK: Above all, I wanted to avoid portraying the war affirmatively. As you can see when you watch the film, there are not that many images of combat situations. In the film, there is a scene where girls sing, “Their boots and clothes are too big. The boys are forced to go to war, and put themselves in danger.” It’s a scene that I deliberately included because I wanted to use song to express the actualities of war.
Q: In contrast, there were also scenes shot on the frontlines of battle—what went through your mind while filming in the midst of danger?
HK: I wanted to portray my experience of war. On the frontlines, you never know where a bullet might come from. There is even a scene where a soldier is shot near me. The surprising thing is that, even within Sudan, there are people in the capital who do not know much about the present circumstances of the war. So I wanted to convey the fact that the civil war is still ongoing.
Q: In 2011, South Sudan declared independence, and the state of unrest has continued since then. In the film, you probe into the identities of the people living there, but how do you see your own identity?
HK: Before the country split, there was a movement to build a “Sudanese identity,” but everything’s changed. Under the present circumstances, there is no freedom to decide who you are on your own terms, no freedom to sing or write whatever you want. I still live in Sudan, but I do not see myself as Sudanese. For someone like me, who is part of an ethnic minority, the vocabulary for explaining one’s identity is too limited. If we don’t create new words, it will always be difficult to find the minority’s identity.
Q: I’ve heard that you are continuing your activities onsite—is this so?
HK: I’m involved in an effort to communicate information about people sustaining injuries from the war. In 2016, a school was destroyed in a government bombing, and children died. I filmed the situation then, and relayed it to the world. That’s one reason why the ceasefire has been upheld. I’ve also started various projects with youths. We’ve opened a youth center, where we play sports and make short films. This is my motivation right now.
Q: What kinds of meaning does the title, Beats of the Antonov, carry?
HK: The word “beat” presents war in two ways. One is to be killed in war. The other is the power of music. It means to live on, to fight through music. It is a fight to protect our culture, to heal hearts, and to bless our very lives. These kinds of meaning are all contained therein.
(Compiled by Numazawa Zenichiro)
Interviewers: Numazawa Zenichiro, Yoshimura Tatsuro / Interpreter: Kat Simpson / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Abe Shizuka / Video: Abenoki Tatsuya / 2017-10-08