Cinema returns to Somalia after decades of shut-downs and strife

Mogadishu, Sept. 26 (BNA): Dozens of Somalis posed for selfies and chatted excitedly in rows of plush red benches as they waited for the premiere of their country’s first film in three decades.

Among the crowds at the National Theater was 24-year-old Kaif Jameh, the writer and star of both films on the show — the horror story “Hoos,” about a single woman who moves into an empty house, and the not-so-romantic comedy “History from Hell.”

“This means something to everyone, including me. This is for every Somali who wants to make films,” Jammeh said, wearing a traditional Somali striped silver, yellow and green dress.

She left Somalia when she was six and moved between Kenya and Uganda before settling in Cairo at the age of 19.

Since then, she has made 60 short films and plays with Somali director Ibrahim CM.

She said Somalis have spent years watching Hindi and Arabic films on television. “But if our own films appear in cinemas and television, every Somali person and child will be shaped and influenced by their own culture,” Reuters said.

The National Theater, a gift from China’s Mao Zedong, opened its doors in 1967.

It became an important home to Somalia’s storytelling tradition, and hosted extravagant plays, music, and, in the 1980s, African film festivals.

After the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, clan warlords bombed each other with anti-aircraft guns and fought on the stage they used as a base. The building was bombed so many times that the roof collapsed after a year of conflict.

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Islamist militants took over the building in 2006. They banned all forms of public entertainment – from concerts to football matches – which they considered sinful.

African Union peacekeepers retook the capital in 2011 and Somalia’s new Western-backed government reopened the area the following year. But just three weeks later, a suicide bomber from the Islamist al-Shabab launched an attack during a ceremony, killing six people. The building reopened again in 2020.

Mogadishu resident Hassan Abdullahi Mohamed recalls spending half a Somali shilling on a cinema ticket and one shilling on theater snacks in the 1960s.

“The last time I saw films in the cinema was 1991,” he said.

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