Ellen van Gelder
Ellen van Gelder
For the first time in decades, a drama series has been filmed in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Special, because Somalia is ravaged by terrorism. The Somali-Dutch director Ahmed Farah decided to give it a shot.
“About eight or nine bombs went off in the three months we filmed in Somalia. We had to stop shooting regularly because actors wanted to check whether their friends and family were safe.” Farah (44) has just returned from Mogadishu and is now continuing to work in his hometown of Nairobi in neighboring Kenya.
His series will go out at the end of this month Arday premiered on television in Somalia. The trailer is already online and according to Farah is “the talk of the town”. Not only because Mogadishu is an unexpected location for a drama series, but also because the series deals with subjects that are often not discussed in Somalia.
Arday (‘Student’) is a ten-part series about young people, largely set in a school. But this is certainly not your standard high school series. There is a lot of action and violence, there are gangs, knives and there is a terrorist attack. But it is also about the relationships of the young people with each other and with their parents. About the young marriage of girls, alcohol and drug use and about a rape, after which the victim is blackmailed with images made of it.
“Somalia is a country with a lot of taboos,” says Farah. “It is not allowed to talk about who the perpetrators are behind the terrorism. And it is an Islamic country, which pretends that there is no alcohol and drug scene. Rape is also taboo. I think many people will hate me for the series, But I want there to be discussion on these issues.”
Self escapes attack
In the early 1990s, he himself fled Somalia because of the civil war. After receiving shelter in a Kenyan refugee camp, he came to the Netherlands at the age of 14. He later moved to Belgium, taught himself the trade of a news cameraman and traveled the world.
Until he escaped an attack in the Somali city of Kismayo four years ago during his work. “I had just taken a drone shot of a restaurant at sunset. I was less than five minutes away and a bomb exploded. My fixer (a local resident who supports journalists with production and translation work, ed.) was killed. That day I decided I was done with the often dangerous work for news channels. I wanted to make fiction.”
After a film in Kenya, the home country of Somalia moved again. “Everyone in Somalia tells you a novel. You only have to sit in the car with someone for five minutes and you already get stories. It is a place where you grow up as a young person with a lot of uncertainty and hopelessness. When you leave home you know never whether you will come back. Still, I do see a shift compared to years ago. The youth no longer want to be afraid of being blown up. They don’t want to be afraid of death, but live.”
Filming was a challenge. Not only did Farah work with inexperienced actors, there is also the ever-present threat of terrorism. Before the shooting, two actresses narrowly escaped an attack when they tried on clothes for the series. And during filming, the team had to switch filming locations every few days so they wouldn’t become targets.
Mogadishu is in government hands. He fights in other parts of the country against the jihadists of Al-Shabaab. Mogadishu is regularly bombarded.
“Everyone thinks about terrorism in Somalia, and I wanted to write that in the series. It’s part of us, of life here, I can’t make a series without it. When we filmed the attack scene, everyone helped with the decor. a shoe, there glass. Somalis know what it looks like. An 8-year-old girl told me she knew the difference between cow and human flesh after a bomb. You can’t imagine that.”
Shooting intense scenes was not easy. “Many of the tears in the series are real. In the series, the young people can visit a school therapist with their stories, where real emotions also emerged. We regularly had to stop filming for an hour because people had to recover from their emotions .”
The series helped her to process traumas, says 22-year-old Somali Badria Yahye Ahmed by telephone from Mogadishu. The student makes her acting debut in the series. “In a scene I defend my girlfriend who was raped and footage of it was leaked. Tears rolled down my cheeks. In my real life, it happened to someone in my circle of friends. It felt strangely liberating to let go in front of the whole cast and film crew.”
The series also gives her, and the many other young actors, hope. “We never thought something like this could be made here. Now I want to be an actress, I have a goal.” Young people now turn on the television and only see politicians talking, says director Farah. “But the young people are the superstars in the country. That has to be seen.”