Filmmaker and researcher at QF partner Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Suzi Mirgani has put Qatar on the Academy Award shortlist ballots this December with her short film about contemporary Sudan titled Al-Sit. Since it debuted at last year’s Ajyal Film Festival, Mirgani’s film has swept the cinematic world, winning 30 film festival awards, including six prizes that qualify Al-Sit for Academy Award consideration in the short film category in this month’s first round of voting for next year’s Oscar contenders.
In Al-Sit, Mirgani draws on her Sudanese heritage to explore the social, political, and historical issues facing Sudanese society through a story about three generations of women in one family caught between tradition and modernity.
Her films are also influenced by her work as the Assistant Director for Publications at GU-Q’s premiere research institute, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS). “Over the years, we have conducted hundreds of research meetings in which scholars from all over the world and from all disciplines take part in lengthy discussions, mostly related to the Middle East—including climate change, food security, pluralism, art, media, and politics,” explained Mirgani. “I try to capture some of these complex ideas and convert them into artistic form: first as stories, then as scripts, and finally as films.”
That effort has led to accolades potentially leading towards one of the most prestigious and significant awards in the global entertainment industry. This level of recognition has been an extremely gratifying and surprising outcome for the filmmaker, who used a Doha Film Institute (DFI) grant and her own private funds to make the film. “I never thought that a small film shot in Sudan could be in the running for an Academy Award,” said Mirgani, who credits DFI for her growing film career.
Over the past decade, she has taken part in dozens of DFI workshops and received practical training in various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting, directing, editing, and producing. “I can quite literally say that I owe my filmmaking career to the Doha Film Institute, which has been the initiator or supporter of each and every one of my projects.” Al-Sit also received support from QF partner VCUarts Qatar in collaboration with Art Foundation Assistant Professor Maysaa Almumin and on-the-ground support from the Sudan Film Factory.
With invitations to attend over 160 film festivals, Mirgani has been inundated with awards and special mentions for Al-Sit, including the Academy Award qualifying Grand Prix Award (Tampere Film Festival, 2021), Best of Fest (LA Shorts, 2021), Best Short (BronzeLens, 2021), Best Narrative Short (New Orleans Film Festival, 2021), Best Live Action Short (AFI Fest, 2021), and Best Live Action Short (Interfilm Berlin).
Mirgani isn’t letting her film’s wild success slow her ambition. Her newest short film Virtual Voice screened at this year’s Ajyal Film Festival, and she is currently developing a followup to Al-Sit, her first feature-length fiction film called Cotton Queen. Regarding filmmaking and the ongoing conflict in Sudan, Mirgani said: “At this moment in time, everything is in flux but there is still great hope.”
So far, the film has been screened across the globe, from Japan to San Francisco, and from the northernmost capital city of Nuuk in Greenland, to the southernmost capital city of Wellington in New Zealand. The film has even been shown to a small gathering at a research facility in Antarctica, but a showing at the Sudan Independent Film Festival had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.