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  • Travis Lee Ratcliff


A recent journal entry on one of my favorite recent film discoveries.

Talking About Trees is one of the most impressive films about film I’ve ever seen.

In the 1980s, a crop of young rebellious visionary Sudanese filmmakers returned from their film school education in Moscow with a desire to build a national cinema for their home country.

Shortly after returning and embarking on their careers with an impressive array of surreal short film work their nation endured a military coup and decades of censorship that targeted their work as filmmakers and shuttered every theater in the country.

Talking About Trees follows these men, now in their sixties, as they dedicate themselves to one more attempt at opening their nation up to the cinema. They dedicate themselves to re-opening a major outdoor cinema on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum.

They encounter a kafkaesque labyrinth of bureaucracy designed to censor and obstruct them. In the process, they find themselves documenting the everyday rote machinery of totalitarianism.

This is a beautifully meditatively paced film, focused primarily on collecting and arranging unforgettable moments.

Inside the old theater a projector is opened. One of our protagonists blows into it, creating a cloud of dust, “that’s the history of my nation’s cinema.”

These days, I find myself seeking out stories of impossible cinemas.

Cinemas that should be but haven’t been.

Cinemas that are populated by unrelenting artisans who are reaching for the impossible - films in spaces where cinema seem like an ungraspable luxury.

This is a documentary that answers that frustration with a certitude of the necessity of both film watching and filmmaking.

It is stories like these that help restore and strengthen my faith that images are important and worth seeking - that they can be the lifeblood of a culture and of an identity.

This film, though made in 2019, speaks to a moment we’re feeling globally now: the struggle to keep a theater alive. The struggle to continue making cinema under impossible conditions.

It shows us a locality with clear eyes but finds something within it uniquely universal.


director's notes


travis lee ratcliff

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