Maciej Drygas: Abu Haraz

Veteran Polish director Maciej Drygas gives the audience an absolutely fascinating opening of his new film shot in North Sudan. Meditative music accompanies the camera, that circles slowly and softly around trees from the point of view of a man in a boat. He watches this as his Paradise, and his voice comes off the image, ”I often dream that I am back in Abu Haraz…”.

The film starts, the introduction is made, a flashbacked human story unfolds about the demolition of a village and the move of its inhabitants to what (at the end of the film) looks like a refugee camp with modern facilities like electricity, which was not always available in Abu Haraz. The building of a dam and the consequent flooding of the village pushes the inhabitants away from a harmonious life, that Drygas describes as full of beauty following the basic natural rythms of Life.

A child is born and the village celebrates. The men cultivate the fertile fields and take care of the animals. Cooking. A school class. Sand storm. A small conflict between boy and girl. A generator brings light into the houses so the kids can read. Drygas observes, he keeps a distance of respect but he is obviously drawn by this kind of classic life. He refrains from any evaluation of what the dam could bring in terms of progress, his aim has been to follow the villagers literally tearing down their homes, packing their goods – and their donkeys and goats – under – especially from the women – expression of great sorrow.

You could argue that a bit more information would have been welcomed from the side of the director, it is a bit enigmatic what stands behind the strong scenes with angry men shouting ”down with the administration” and ”blood must flow” and this is ”an attack on the culture of the Nile”.

However, the director has made another choice and he performs that brilliantly. There are scenes which are magnificent like the one towards the end where you see a lonely woman walking in the desert with one child on the arm, one holding her scarf, with a suitcase in the other hand. Pure poetry as is the sequence (accompanied by music) where you see a truck driving away with their belongings with a cut to ”our man” watching it all from the top of a mountain with music mingling the sound of water that gets closer and closer to finally be pouring down in a visually stunning image.

The village is under water, the man dreams again meeting someone, who tells him not to think about the past! Which is what Drygas has done so masterly. His focus is the past, the lost paradise.

Poland, 2013, 75 mins.

Premiere at Planete+ Doc Film festival,

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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