Abu Haraz – Maciej Drygas
In Maciej Drygas's film the story of an African village turns into an evolutionary tale that claims lives. "Abu Haraz" is a stunning cinematic requiem for a lost world.
Abu Haraz can no longer be found the map. The small North Sudanese village wallows under 35 meters of water in the middle of an artificial, 180 kilometer long lake. Its inhabitants have been relocated to a giant city. Deprived of land, thrown into a foreign world, the government's indemnification payout is just enough to get by. The memories of the place they had to leave, now only exist in their memories and on documentary images.
Sudan, a world
To meet with the inhabitants of Abu Haraz and observe the changes occurring in their lives, the Polish director spent seven years traveling around Sudan. He could only stay in the country a couple of weeks at a time - as long as the visa allowed it. In order to get another one, he had to pose as someone else. He didn't want the authorities to know he was making a film about a local village.
When Maciej Drygas left for Sudan for the first time, he set out to film the work of Polish archaeologists studying the terrain for the planned reservoir. His initial plans changed, "I imagine that I would be relating the story of a gradually disappearing world [...]" the filmmaker clarified during the Planette Doc Review, "That it would by great and universal". He quickly understood that the story would be about something else entirely - about pain and loss, about progress that claims lives and the despair about uprooted people. The "archeological" observations are the content of a different film, a 20 minute long documentary Usłysz nas wszystkich / Hear Us All completed in 2008.
Telling the story of the titular village, Drygas never falls victim to the temptation of ethnography. The inhabitants of Abu Haraz are not objects of anthropological observation. Abu Haraz, the film has more in common with Flaherty's documentaries than National Geographic's colourful productions in which the creators treat other cultures like a zoological, travel oddity. Drygas treats the inhabitants of Abu Haraz with respect, his camera is kept at a distance, he doesn't force open the door to his protagonists' world. With time, they are the ones letting the creators in.
Drygas listens to his protagonists, "I often dream that I am at my place in Abu Haraz and I am leading a normal life. I dream that I am mowing the lawn, that I am among palm trees", one of the village inhabitants shares, "It sometimes happens that I speak to someone that isn't there anymore, about things that don't exist anymore. I feel as if I were dead, although I am alive." There is much to be said, thoughts to be shared, but Abu Haraz mainly speaks through images. The director looks into the watery eyes of the protagonists, he shows women hopelessly saying their goodbyes to their homes.
Drygas's film doesn't follow the newest documentary trends. It doesn't try to find a punchline, create a political sensation or generate a melodrama. It's an honest story about uprooted people.
Abu Haraz is like a biopsy in the form of a documentary, a tiny piece of reality allows the director to talk about something bigger: the victims of globalization and about traditions that have to make way to development.
In the film's last scene, one of the protagonists, Sulejman, is showed praying on a patch of land sticking out of the muddy Nile. The camera backs up and a couple of seconds later, the figure of a man in a white jalabiya remains but a small dot on the rising landscape. It seems that Maciej Drygas speaks in Miłosz's words when he says, "There will be no other end of the world". His Abu Haraz is like a documentary requiem, full of longing, a story about forgotten people and place that no longer exists on the map.
- "Abu Haraz", Script and directing: Maciej Drygas. Documentation: Małgorzata Purzyńska. Director of cinematography: Andrzej Musiał. Music: Paweł Szymański (extracts from Krystian Lupa's play "Persona. Ciało Simone"). Sound: Maciej Drygas, Iwo Klimek, I.M.I. Studio. Editing: Rafał Listopad, Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk. Polish premiere: November 29th 2013
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Mai Jones 03.12.2013Bartosz Staszczyszyn