While at this year's Ajyal Film Festival, we were able to watch Suzannah Mirghani's fifth short film Virtual Voice, which came out of a Doha Film Institute short documentary lab with Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh. The half-Sudanese, half-Russian, based in Qatar Mirghani is a true filmmaker, weaving easily in and out of genres, themes and storytelling and making each project she embarks upon her own.
So we were happy to learn that her previous film Al-Sit, having already won prizes in Busan, New Orleans, Tampere and at Clermont-Ferrand, now walked away with yet another Oscar-qualifying award at AFI Fest 2021 -- the yearly event organized by the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
This year, their programme included 118 titles (51 features, 1 episodic, 49 shorts, including 19 Meet the Press Film Festival at AFI Fest shorts and 17 AFI Conservatory Showcase shorts) of which 51% were directed by women, 39% were directed by BIPOC and 13% were directed by LGBTQ+. This year's program represented 53 countries and included 7 World Premieres.
The Jury statement for Mirghani's haunting 20 minute film read: “For going beyond its central story to make a densely layered and truly cinematic experience, the Jury would like to honor Al-Sit the Best Narrative Short.”
Al-Sit tells the story of a young woman in a cotton-farming village in Sudan, who sits at the crossroads between tradition and modernity. Her own future depends on what her grandmother, the village elder Al-Sit, will think of a potential suitor. So what will Nafisa (played by the spellbinding Mihad Murtada) do? Will she follow her heart or will she keep on track to her tradition -- as the phantom train that used to run through her village. It is a haunting story, told with the mastery of a filmmaker wise beyond her years.