The celebrations ran deep into the night in Juba, the capital of the newly independent South Sudan, after the country declared its independence July 9.
But for members of the nation’s fledgling film community, the champagne corks popped five months ago, when South Sudan’s first local film production bowed.
Bankrolled and produced by a roster of Nigerian film veterans, “Salt of the Nation” was released just days after a February referendum made the country’s independence official. Though the above-the-line talent was Nigerian, most of the actors were rookies pulled from the streets of Juba.
Even before the final votes were tallied, a new film biz had been born.
Pic tells the story of South Sudan’s rocky road to independence, beginning with the bloody civil war that started in 1983 and lasted for more than two decades. At the movie’s heart is a story of intertribal love that reflects some of the challenges facing a nation divided among more than 200 ethnic groups.
According to Nigerian helmer Lekan Ayinde, “Salt of the Nation” is both a warning and a rallying cry for South Sudan to come together and move beyond the tribal differences that have caused so much bloodshed in the past.
“If there’s no unity, how do they govern themselves?” he asks.
Pic preemed in the Ugandan capital of Kampala after its debut in Juba, where Ayinde says DVDs of the film were selling briskly.
The project is not only a triumph for the young nation but for its Nigerian producer Dare Folder.
An accomplished Nollywood veteran, Folder lives in Kampala, where he’s established the Universal Movie and TV Institute to help spread Nollywood know-how to South Sudan.
He opened a Juba branch of the institute last July — the first film school of its kind in South Sudan. Local actors used in “Salt of the Nation” were culled from the institute’s crop of graduates. It was the first time any of them had appeared onscreen.
Filming was plagued by run-ins with the police, technical setbacks and the lack of experience of the rookie actors — most of whom have their own incredible tales of survival to tell.
Jamila Adua Garang, who plays the female lead, was forced to leave her home with her sister 15 years ago and flee to Ethiopia. Other actors spent years in refugee camps or were living on the streets.
Pic wrapped after a 15-day shoot, with Folder admitting that what would be done in 30 minutes in Nollywood takes five hours in South Sudan.
Still, the arrival of a film biz is one of the many signs that the new South Sudan has hit the ground running. In the months leading up to independence, foreign investors were scrambling to get a foothold in the nation. From Chinese engineers to U.S. security contractors to a South African brewery, the world had already come to do business in South Sudan.
For Folder, that was encouraging news. The producer credits the government with supporting his crew’s work and recognizing the longterm potential of developing a pic biz.
Having seen first-hand how filmmaking transformed his native Nigeria, Folder says the development of an indigenous film biz could “give young South Sudanese a new career choice” and help them steer their country forward.