Film night returns to Somalia: National theatre which was once a base for warlords and a target for suicide bombers shows movies for the first time in 30 years
- The National Theatre showed two Somali short films on Wednesday night
- It was the first time a Somali film has ever been shown at the troubled venue
- The site was once a base for warlords and was struck by a suicide bomb in 2012
- After a painstaking restoration, it has now reopened amid hopes of a cultural revival in Somalia, which has been plagued by civil war and terrorism
Somalia has hosted its first film screening in 30 years, raising hopes for a cultural renewal in the war-ravaged country.
The National Theatre of Somalia in the capital, Mogadishu, showed two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM on Wednesday night.
The event took place under a heavy security presence at the venue, which has been a target of suicide bombers and a base for warlords in the past.
Pictures suggested some social distancing measures were in place but the audience was mostly maskless.
‘This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people, it shows how hopes have been revived… after so many years of challenges,’ theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said before the screening, which marked the first time a Somali film had been shown at the theatre.
‘It’s a platform that provides an opportunity to… Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly.’
The tickets for the two short films – Hoos and Date from Hell – sold for $10 (£7.32) each, an expensive treat for many.
Somalia has hosted its first film screening in 30 years, raising hopes for a cultural renewal in the war-ravaged country
The National Theatre of Somalia in the capital, Mogadishu, showed two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM on Wednesday night
The event took place under a heavy security presence at the venue, which has been a target of suicide bombers and a base for warlords in the past
According to sources contacted by AFP news agency, the evening passed off without any security incidents.
Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991.
Before then, the national theatre, which was built by Chinese engineers as a gift from Mao Zedong in 1967, hosted live concerts and plays.
Warlords used the theatre as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by Al-Shabaab jihadists just two weeks later.
The Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers entertainment evil.
After a painstaking restoration, the authorities announced plans to hold the theatre’s first screening this week.
For many Somalis, it was a trip down memory lane and a reminder of happier times.
Before Somalia’s 1991 civil war, the national theatre hosted live concerts and plays. Warlords used it as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by Al-Shabaab jihadists just two weeks later
‘I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the national theatre during the good old days,’ said Osman Yusuf Osman, a self-confessed film buff.
‘It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start,’ he told AFP.
Others were more circumspect, and worried about safety.
‘I was a school-age girl when my friends and I used to watch live concerts and dramas at the national theatre,’ said a mother-of-six, Hakimo Mohamed.
‘People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished – but now, I don’t think it is so safe,’ she told AFP.
Somalia’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Osman Dubbe awaits the start of the films on Wednesday ight
The jihadists were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago, but retain control of swathes of countryside.
Attendees had to pass through several security checkpoints before arriving at the theatre, which lies inside a heavily guarded complex that includes the presidential palace and the parliament.
But for some, the inconvenience and the risks paled in comparison to the anticipation of seeing a film in a cinema after such a long wait.
‘I was not lucky to watch live concerts and or movies in the theatre [before]… because I was still a child, but I can imagine how beautiful it was,’ NGO employee Abdullahi Adan said.
‘I want to experience this for the first time and see what it’s like to watch a movie with hundreds of people in a theatre.’
Scriptwriter and actress Kaif Jama speaks to the media ahead of the national theatre’s first ever screening of a Somali film on Wednesday night
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