According to the Associated Press, if the voting goes as predicted, Southern Sudan will become the world's newest country in July. The polling booths, after one full week, closed this past Saturday and began posting their results on Sunday. Though all of the negotiations for border demarcation and oil rights must be worked out later, officials expect the vote to easily grant the South independence from the North. The official results will be announced in early February.
The unfolding drama in Southern Sudan has not only been in the national spotlight, but also under the smaller, portable spotlight of independent filmmaker Coury Deeb, a 30-year-old Louisville resident. Coury, who was also my housemate for two years when my family lived in Philadelphia, began the overwhelming task of documenting the Southern Sudanese experience over six years ago.
My husband and I have been amazed to watch Coury’s vision evolve from what we considered a silly pipe dream into the fully established non-profit organization Nadus Films (NF). In our defense, though, the only movies we saw Coury make were shorts of slow-motion mouse deaths set to Emo music. Coury spent an inordinate amount of time trying to capture the perfectly violent snap of a mousetrap in our vermin-ridden row home.
But NF’s documentaries raise awareness, generate financial support, and illuminate the beauty and brokenness of life in Southern Sudan. His first film, The New Sudan, and his current film project, Grace Surpasses, reveal Coury’s unique personality and special giftedness that makes Nadus Films what it is. There is nothing silly about what Coury has now achieved. In fact, it is remarkable.
Sarah Braud: If there are two things I know about you, Coury, they are that somehow, everything you touch turns to gold, and everything you do is driven by your "Man List" — which, for the record, is a lot like a “Bucket List,” but you thought of it first.
Coury Deeb: Way to feed my ego, Sarah. Trust me, there are plenty of things I’ve touched that have fallen apart. But what has helped my success, I suppose, is my determination. I’ve been told I am a “finisher.” So if I set out to do something, whether marriage, parenting, or career, I’ll stick with it until it kills me. I’m also a risk-taker. I’ve always said that I’m either a foolish man, or a man that steps out on limbs of faith that only God can support.
My “Man List” is an ever-growing list of things I want to do in my lifetime. I love adrenaline. Some of the things I’ve checked off have been skydiving, catching a shark over 6-feet-long and spanking it, spear-fishing in the bush, and slaughtering a bull.
SB: Was making a movie on your “Man List”? What inspired you to take on such an enormous project?
CD: Making a film was never part of my “Man List,” but the adventures surrounding that project — especially visiting a developing country such as Sudan — were on the list. I was first introduced to the needs in Southern Sudan while living in Philly with my wife, Anne. I heard a friend named Celestin speak about the needs in Sudan. As a photographer, I realized that I might just be able to help. So a few months later, I was on a plane to Sudan. Six years later, we’ve filmed two feature-length film projects that have generated support in drilling wells, providing medicine, education, and church support for thousands of Sudanese.
SB: What exactly were those needs he mentioned? Why did you think that a photographer could help?
CD: Southern Sudan is a devastated place; it is so crippled. For decades, the Northern government raped and massacred the Southern Sudanese. It's a sad, sad situation. For the first time in decades, now that the civil war is over, the Southerners have the freedom to learn in schools of their choice, to worship freely, and to not be persecuted for being Southern Sudanese. There's been so much destruction, and Southern Sudan lacks any kind of infrastructure.
Celestin asked if I would help raise awareness. As a photographer and filmmaker, I set out to do just that. It’s difficult to get Americans to think twice about anything unless we are given provocative images. I started off by capturing stills and footage. That gained momentum until I had to start turning down my professional photography jobs and put all my time into making the movie. Clearly, raising awareness is just the beginning. We hope that our films will ultimately bring real sustainable change to the lives of the Southern Sudanese, which can really only be accomplished through multiple partnerships and individuals who care. Now that there's some stability there, Nadus Films, alongside its partners, is striving to make a difference.
SB: How has The New Sudan been received?
CD: Very well! Our world premiere was sold out at the Santa Fe Film Festival. We’ve currently locked into one distribution contract and are working on another. In the past few months we have driven thousands of miles, had dozens of screenings, and shown the film to thousands of people who have an interest in what NF is doing on the ground in Southern Sudan. This is partially what motivated us to begin our next feature film project, Grace Surpasses.
SB: Why make another movie about Southern Sudan? What is different about Grace Surpasses?
CD: I couldn’t be more excited about this next film project — it is truly groundbreaking. For starters, it’s a fiction drama shot on location in Sudan starring indigenous Sudanese; our first film, The New Sudan, was a documentary. In addition, the new film is not built around dialogue. In fact, there’s only one word spoken in the entire film: “grace.” The score to the film will drive the story of what is on screen. We plan to tour the film with a live band. So imagine: a projected HD film powerfully captured and accompanied by a live band that plays the score! We anticipate raising awareness and lots of funds through ticket and merchandise sales, which will go toward the rebuilding of Southern Sudan.
SB: Is Nadus Films looking for volunteers for Grace Surpasses?
CD: Yes. We need producers. We need individuals, organizations, and churches to jump on this train with us. Fortunately, we have the footage already captured, so that risky part is already completed. Now we need help in raising funds for post-production. Once we’re done with the film, we’ll be touring this project throughout the country. So we’ll need musicians for the tour and secured venues to show the film. There’s plenty of room for individuals to use their God-given talent. And, it goes without saying, we need financing. So jump on board with us if you feel led!
SB: Last week was really important for Southern Sudan as they voted for independence from the North. What do you think about that landmark vote?
CD: As it looks now, 30% of Sudan will break off into its own country. I just learned that the 60% mark of the Southern Sudanese turnout has been surpassed. This is important since the peace agreement signed in 2005 — the agreement that allowed for this vote in the first place — required that at least 60% of Southerners vote for the results to be considered valid. This has been a monumental election that will transform not only Sudan, but all of Africa. It has really shown the power of democracy.
Of course, this isn't the end. There's still work to be done, but the Southern Sudanese are basking in the success of a mostly peaceful election.
As the world waits anxiously for the birth of a new nation, Coury Deeb creates art that will incite action for a group of people that has been historically ignored and trampled. The New Sudan and Grace Surpasses tell the story of the horrific nature of war and the more powerful nature of hope. Nadus Films aims to continue telling the stories of those who struggle, igniting the passions of those who can offer help.
To learn more about Nadus Films and watch the trailer for The New Sudan, click here.
Click here to watch Coury's spear-chucking skills.
Sarah Braud is a writer, teacher, wife of a handsomely bald man, and mother of one boy and one girl in Franklin, Tennessee. She achieved her bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia in foreign language education/TESOL and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Sarah’s Juniper Tree.