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The Gravedigger's Wife is a revival of Somali cinema

Thursday September 23, 2021
By Shukri Elmi

Director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed along with his cast at the Toronto Film Festival. Photo: Shukri Elmi/ HOL

Somali-born Finnish-based director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed's directorial debut - 'The Gravedigger's Wife' - has been described by critics as a warm and tender romantic drama with a deceptively simple plot.

Inspired by an individual from Ahmed's personal network, the film is about a man, Guled, who "hunts bodies for a living" to provide for his young family. When his beautiful wife falls gravely ill, the man and his son scramble for money to pay for an out-of-reach surgery.

If Guled wishes to save his wife, he must pray that others die.

"I see it as a story about the power of love, about devotion, about community, about friendship," Ahmed tells The National.

The cast was made up almost entirely of novice actors with no formal training. Ahmed directly street-casted several actors, including Khadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim, who plays the couple's son, Mahad. Ibrahim was cast from a local school.

It was the first time that Somali-Canadian model Yasmin Warsame - who plays Guled's wife, Nasra - acted in a film. The film's director said that he knew without ever talking to Yasmin that she would be perfect for the role of Nasra.

The film was recently screened at the prestigious Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals.

Ahmed said that the Toronto screening was a different experience for him than the Cannes showing because of the large Somali audience in attendance, whereas in Cannes, Ahmed and his family were the only Somalis at the screening. 

Credit: Instagram/khadarayderus

The film also won the Amplify Voices Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Ahmed, who has never attended film school, began his journey in the industry by working on short films, writing screenplays and entering them in competitions. He says that he was lucky enough to have a mentor who guided him through the journey and expanded his networks within the film world.


The film was produced by Finland's Bufo and co-produced by Germany's Twenty Twenty Vision and Pyramide Productions (France). Despite funders pushing for the film to be in French, as it's the second official language in Djibouti, Ahmed was keen to screen the film in Somalia. With Mogadishu's National Theatre screening a movie this week for the first time in 30 years, it seems to be the perfect moment to push for feature films and documentaries that push stories from within our community and in our mother-tongue.


Ahmed said that creating this film gave him a chance to show the beauty of Somalia and its people - usually portrayed as pirates, warlords or religious fanatics - to a broader audience. He said that the film was an opportunity to ditch the one-dimensional tropes and show a more authentic version filled with love and dignity. 


"I took those people back, back to their homes, to their uncles, to their aunties, to their grandmothers. They really enjoyed it. And it was just a joy to see that," said Ahmed.


'The Gravedigger's Wife' premiered in July at the Cannes Film Festival and will continue its journey on the film festival circuit with its next stop at the BFI London Film Festival before making its US debut at the Chicago International Film Festival. It'll premiere in Africa during the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso before opening in Finland and Norway on November 12.


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