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Alala’s Debut ‘Twenty’ Explores Struggles in Sudan

When a prophecy from a traveling sheik portends that a young Sudanese boy will die at the age of 20, he and his mother are faced with the difficult task of navigating the space between coming of age and confronting the end.

You Will Die at Twenty” is the feature directorial debut of Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala. The film will make its North American debut in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival Monday. Pyramide Intl. is handling world sales. The film won the Lion of the Future award at the just-wrapped Venice Film Festival.

Alala, who was born and raised in Dubai, based the script on a short story by the Egyptian writer Hammour Ziada. The film was also inspired by Alala’s own experiences in Sudan, where he spent five years as a child. “I think my relationship to Sudan, my memory and my childhood — it’s all there,” he said.

You Will Die at Twenty” explores the struggles of young Muzamil (played first by Moatasem Rashid and as a teen by Mustafa Shehata) to make the most of his short time on earth, torn between the counsel of religious leaders to study the Koran and the advice of a hedonistic father figure to enjoy what little time he has.

“The film is not saying exactly what is right or what is wrong,” said Alala. “The film is just telling Muzamil: You need to decide. You don’t need to let the holy man or your mother or your society decide. You need to live your life.”

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The director called “You Will Die at Twenty” “a call to freedom” for the people of Sudan, who earlier this year ousted strongman Omar al-Bashir after nearly three decades of authoritarian rule. The movie’s dedication is “for all the victims of the Sudanese Revolution.”

“I wanted to give them this,” said Alala.

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