We’ve exhibited a lot of gratitude for the slow return of some of our favourite pastimes over the past year and a half. Art galleries reopening, theatre companies able to perform once more, and even being able to sit in a theatre and watch a movie. But what if it was a longer wait than a year or two? What if it was three whole decades? That’s how long it had been since a movie was screened in Somalia, but this past week the National Theatre of Somalia played its first films to the public in thirty years.
Situated in the capital of Mogadishu, the National Theatre of Somalia has had a tumultuous time since civil war erupted across the country. It ceased all screenings in 1991, has been targeted by suicide bombers and used by warlords, and was even bombed by 2012 following a brief reopening. With this timeline of events, there are entire generations of Somali citizens who have never experienced a movie in theatres, let alone at the National Theatre of Somalia. While the civil war is still ongoing, the theatre was able to operate in some extent of its capabilities for this event.
Kaif Jama, the filmmaker on presentation at the theatre, was originally from Somalia but moved to Cairo at a young age, so this night was a sort of homecoming for her. Her two films, The Date From Hell and Hoos, were both directed by fellow Somali filmmaker Ibrahim CM. And the two are making history as the first Somali filmmakers to ever be screened in the National Theatre of Somalia.
While the turnout for the event was good and the reaction was strong, the theatre was nowhere near its 6,000 person capacity. It’s understandable, given the violent history the locals have associated with the location for so many years. Despite high security and tense worry from those abstaining from the screening, it’s clear that this historic night meant a lot to both the team of Jama and CM as well as the people of Mogadishu.
It’s by no means a return to normal for the National Theatre of Somalia—in many ways, the normal has become its shuttered state in the face of wartime struggle. But the ability to share in artistic endeavours during the harshest of times is what can keep the human spirit aloft. Even if there’s no regular screening come out of the theatre for a long time, there is still something to be said that an audience was able to come together in that cinema and share a viewing experience, even for a night.