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Hollyworld: making movies in Sudan

Even before independence, a movie is being filmed for a South Sudan audience.

Jamila Adau Garang, a 6-foot-tall, 23-year-old woman from Jonglei state, plays the female lead, Poni, in the film. Ten years ago, Garang recounts between takes, she was homeless, running barefoot to Ethiopia with her sister, trying to escape the northern army and locate her parents in a refugee camp across the border. For 15 days they subsisted on dirty water and foul-tasting vegetation, stepping on so many rocks that at one point, Garang said, all her toenails fell off.

Today, she is making up for lost time. Selected to play Poni just three days before filming commenced because “she just fit it,” explains her teacher Stephen Yei Batali, Garang said she can now encourage all South Sudanese, through her character, to live as one regardless of tribe or ethnicity.

“I want the Dinka man and the Lotuko man to eat from one plate,” she said, referring to two of the South’s tribes. “I want to encourage the youth to work hard. Sitting in someone’s house as an onlooker cannot help our people.”

Like the rest of her colleagues, Garang is excited because she knows the film’s themes of tolerance and harmony are an important reminder as her country marks a historical vote on whether to stay united with the North or form its own country.

Garang’s passion, however, still struggles to translate on film. On set, every time her co-actor approaches her for a kiss, to the dismay of her director, she draws away.

“You’re supposed to be lovers,” implores Ayinde, but in take after take Garang ducks and dodges. In the background somebody whispers that Garang has a boyfriend; another says she is simply shy.

Despite the challenges, Folder is optimistic about the future of the industry in what is widely expected to be an independent South Sudan. He is in talks with the government to acquire a TV license to air locally produced entertainment shows and judging from the enthusiasm of South Sudanese, Folder could very well be onto something.

Stay tuned for more from Hollyworld.