Somali Filmmaker Mo Harawe Makes History in Cannes With ‘Paradise’

After making a splash on the festival circuit with two short films, Somali director Mo Harawe makes his debut at this year’s festival. Cannes Film Festival With “The Village Next to Paradise,” which will premiere on May 21 in the French festival’s Un Certain Regard section, it is the first film from the African country to ever be screened at the Croisette.

An intimate family drama set in a windswept Somali fishing village, “Paradise” follows Mamargid (Ahmed Ali Farah), a single father who works odd jobs to provide a better life for his son Sigal (Ahmed Mahmoud Salban). They are joined by his sister Arawelo (Annab Ahmed Ibrahim), who returns to live with the couple after her divorce. Each pursues their own ambitions in a country torn by civil war, natural disasters, and the deadly threat posed by American drones that constantly fly overhead.

A testament to love, family and resilience, “The Village Next to Paradise” is produced by Sabine Moser and Oliver Neumann for Austria’s Freibeuter Film (“Great Freedom”), Germany’s Niko Film (“More Than Ever”), and France’s Kazak Prods. (“Saddar”, “Titan”) and the Somali “Manmal”. Totem Films handles international sales.

Born and raised in Mogadishu, Haraway immigrated to Austria in 2009, where he taught himself the basics of filmmaking before pursuing formal studies in Germany. Starting with the short films Life on the Horn (2020), an official selection of the Locarno Film Festival, and Will My Parents Come to See Me (2022), which premiered in Berlin, he begins to explore life in the Horn of Africa. The country he left behind, using cinema to bridge the gap between memories of his homeland and the way Somalia is viewed through a European lens.

“It was a way to get to know myself in some way,” Haraway says. diverse. As an immigrant, he often found himself recalling his Somali childhood to skeptical audiences. “I didn’t think I was living in a failed state,” he said. “You ask yourself. And then when you start writing, you realize: ‘No, my reality is reality.’ Willy-nilly, that’s what came out.”

“The Village Next to Paradise” doesn’t shy away from the complexities of Somalia, an impoverished country jutting into the Indian Ocean and whose unstable central government has struggled for decades to stave off violent insurgency. It is the birthplace of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, and has also been a focal point in the US War on Terror, the consequences of which appear throughout Haraway’s film.

The director resists the urge to paint Somalis as helpless victims, though his measured debut certainly reveals the human toll beyond euphemisms like “collateral damage.” Haraway is more interested in investigating the intimate bonds of his unconventional but close-knit family unit, while exploring how individuals bear or evade responsibility for their actions.

However, he is careful to withhold judgment when his characters make concessions in the face of forces beyond their control. He added: “I don’t blame anyone.” “If you can survive in such conditions, you are a superhuman. If you don’t succeed, you are still a human. It’s not that you’re any less.” [of a person]”.

While the film’s title alludes to the failed promise of a troubled country where heaven remains elusive, Haraway insists that Somalis – bound by family ties and unwavering perseverance – are ultimately masters of their own destiny.

“There is still hope. You can take a lot of things, but this is not something you can take from them.” “There is freedom in that. It’s hard to describe. There is freedom when you have that hope and you have that resilience. No matter what happens, there is tomorrow.”

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