Somalia hosts historic film screening for the first time in 30 years

Mogadishu's National Theatre of Somalia, which opened in 1967, was used as a military base and blown up by extremists in 2012

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Somalia hosted its first screening of a film in three decades at the National Theatre in Mogadishu, under heavy security, on Wednesday, as the conflict-ravaged country hopes for a cultural renewal.

The theatre, a gift from former president of China Mao Zedong in 1967, has a history that reflects the tumultuous journey of the Horn of Africa nation.

It has been targeted by suicide bombers and used as a base by warlords. It has never screened a Somali film – until now.

"This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people, it shows how hopes have been revived ... after so many years of challenges," theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said before the screening.

"It's a platform that provides an opportunity to ... Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly."

The evening's programme was two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM – Hoos and Date from Hell – with tickets sold for $10 each, expensive for many.

According to sources, the evening passed without any security incidents.

Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, with the National Theatre also hosting live concerts and plays, the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991.

Warlords used the theatre as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by Al-Shabaab extremists two weeks later.

After a painstaking restoration, authorities announced plans to hold the theatre's first screening this week.

For many Somalis, it was a trip down memory lane and a reminder of happier times. "I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the National Theatre during the good old days," said Osman Yusuf Osman. "It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start."

Others were more circumspect, and worried about safety. "I was a school-age girl when my friends and I used to watch live concerts and dramas at the national theatre," said mother-of-six Hakimo Mohamed.

"People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished – but now, I don't think it is so safe."

The extremists were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago, but retain control of large parts of the countryside.

Cinemagoers had to pass through several security checkpoints before arriving at the theatre, inside a heavily guarded complex that includes the presidential palace and the parliament.

But for some, the inconvenience and the risks paled in comparison to the anticipation of seeing a film in a cinema after such a long wait.

"I was not lucky to watch live concerts and or movies in the theatre [earlier] ... because I was still a child, but I can imagine how beautiful it was," NGO worker Abdullahi Adan said.

"I want to experience this for the first time and see what it's like to watch a movie with hundreds of people in a theatre."

Updated: September 23, 2021, 9:22 AM