Lions of Khartoum (29 minutes / Sudan / English subtitles) explores the role of Khartoum’s iconic wrestlers in the Sudanese revolution of 2019, through the voice of Mudawi, a childhood wrestler-turned-wrestling commentator. Until the 2019 Sudanese revolution, Khartoum’s local wrestling organisation was run by Islamist party acolytes (kīzān), who were more focused on making money from ticket sales than training the athletes or promoting the sport. During the horrific June 2019 massacre in Khartoum, one of the wrestlers was murdered by the Janjaweed, the former regime’s paramilitary forces. His face now adorns the wrestling stadium formerly controlled by the kīzān. Against the extraordinary backdrop of revolutionary change, however, the film shows us that the ordinary mundanity of life continues for Khartoum’s wrestlers. The film builds on the filmmakers’ 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, living and training with Khartoum’s wrestling community prior to and during the Sudanese revolution.
Paul Hayes is completing a PhD in anthropology at The Australian National University and has been an Associate Researcher at Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales (CEDEJ) in Khartoum since 2018. He completed 12 months of ethnographic research, living and training among Khartoum’s wrestling community, in the midst of the Sudanese revolution.
Mudawi Hassan is a commentator at Khartoum’s East Nile wrestling stadium, and has worked for numerous international researchers and filmmakers, in Khartoum and Darfur. In 2018, he graduated from Omdurman Islamic University with honours in communication and television. He participated in almost every major protest event in Khartoum during the revolution.
This was a collaborative project between me, an Australian PhD student of anthropology, and Mudawi, a Sudanese wrestling enthusiast and community leader from Khartoum. The film, which focuses on Mudawi’s reflections after the revolution, will form part of my broader PhD thesis which explores the embodied material culture of Sudanese wrestling. For that, I spent over 12 months training and socialising with the East Nile wrestling community, while also living with Mudawi’s family. Unexpectedly, the fieldwork took place in the lead-up to, and during the start of the Sudanese revolution, which led to the army overthrowing President Omar Al Bashir in April 2019, after months of street protests. The footage for this film was shot only in December 2019, during a return visit to Mudawi’s family, precisely one year after the revolution began. The film tries to convey only a tiny taste of the lives of its interlocutors and their involvement in the revolution. It is a partial, tentative story, and one which I think raises more questions than it answers.
Paul Hayes, Canberra, March 2020