Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala won the Luigi de Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Feature at the Venice International Film Festival this past weekend, for his You Will Die at Twenty, based on a short story by Hammour Ziada:
The film — built around Hammour Ziada’s short story “Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain” (“النوم عند قدمي الجبل“) — premiered at the Venice International Film Festival. It’s now at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is set to run from September 5 to 15.
You Will Die at Twenty is the Qatar-, Sudan-, and Egypt-based filmmaker’s debut feature, although Abu Alala has a number of short films, including Tina (2009), Coffee and Orange (2004), and Feathers of the Birds (2005). In 2013, Abu Alala won the Best Arabic Theatre Script Award from the Arab Authority for Apple Pies.
The script was co-written by Youssef Ibrahim and Abu Alala, who told Variety that the film was “a call to freedom” for the people of Sudan. The film’s dedication is “for all the victims of the Sudanese Revolution.” They write that the story is “about a young man raised to believe an unfortunate event at his birth has condemned him to die at 20.”
Ziada is the Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning and International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted author of The Longing of the Dervish, translated by to English by Jonathan Wright. Ziada’s short fiction can also be found in Book of Khartoum (“The Void,” translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) and in Banipal 55 (“The Wad Azrag Ditrict,” translated by Wright).
A while ago, Sudanese film director Amjad Abu Alala, who is a friend of mine, approached me and told me that he wanted to adapt a story I wrote years ago into a film. It was about a Sudanese boy, born in a simple Sudanese village, and a prophecy that foresees his death when he turns 20. The idea is about how humans deal with their fate.
When Abu Alala told me about his project, I agreed without any reservations … But I did not want to get involved. I believe the scenario has to remain in the hands of the director. It is his vision.
To watch and listen: