Strong beliefs, as we have witnessed lately in the US, can really affect a person’s life, as well as the lives of those nearby. This fact is often exploited for political purposes, as a way to keep people aligned and obedient. This is the underlying theme in the film You Will Die at Twenty, which opens today via virtual cinema. This is the directorial debut of Sudanese born (raised in Dubai) writer and director Amjad Abu Alala, and Sudan’s first official entry for “Best International Film” into the 93rd Academy Awards.

The film starts as a holy man in a village in Sudan foretells that the baby placed in front of him will die at age 20. This moves the baby’s father to flee and to leave the full responsibility to the mother, whose reaction is to overprotect her son. The movie then follows Muzamil (played by Sudanese first-time actor Mustafa Shehata) through his 20th birthday. 

“My film is an invitation for freedom. Nothing and no one can ever tell you: this is your destiny, it is written somewhere. You have to decide yourself what will be your life,” said Abu Alala in an interview, as he also explained that the movie found inspiration in a short story by popular Sudanese writer and activist Hammour Ziada. 

The movie was shot in central Sudan, in the director’s father’s real-life village. Only two professional actors were hired – Islam Mubarak as Sakina (Muzamil’s mother), and Mahmoud Elsaraj as Sulaiman (a man who teaches Muzamil about life beyond the village). The rest of the cast and a majority of the crew are Sudanese, a conscious effort by Abu Alala to teach Sudanese technicians how to work a film, hoping to spark the rebirth of the Sudanese movie industry.  You Will Die at Twenty is only the eighth feature fiction film ever produced in Sudan, a country that had become “a dark spot for thirty years,” said the director, under Omar el-Beshir’s dictatorship. 

The film is 103 minutes long, in Arabic with English subtitles. You can watch it for $10 from Laemmle Virtual Cinema