FiSahara Presents Online Catalogue of Western Sahara Films

FiSahara Presents Online Catalogue of Western Sahara Films

FiSahara (the Western Sahara International Film Festival), an annual festival celebrated in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, today announced the release of an online catalogue made up of over 200 films about Western Sahara, making it the most extensive online film database focusing on the Morocco-occupied territory, known as Africa’s last colony. With around 230 productions spanning five decades, the catalogue, available in English and Spanish, was put together by Nomads HRC, a Madrid-based NGO that supports FiSahara’s international activities and that has organized scores of film screenings in the Sahrawi refugee camps and in festivals and other events all over the world.

The films are made by international filmmakers, journalists, activists, students, solidarity organizations and, more recently, by Sahrawis themselves as they pioneer a new art: Sahrawi cinematography. They span across genres, categories, nationalities and languages. Collectively, this body of work provides a unique audiovisual narrative of the recent history of Western Sahara and its indigenous people, including the end of the Spanish colonial era, the Moroccan military invasion and the exodus by half of Western Sahara’s population to refugee camps in Algeria, the 16-year war between the Moroccan military and the Sahrawi liberation movement called the Polisario Front, life in exile and under occupation and the current reality and struggle of the Sahrawi people for the decolonization of their homeland.

In addition to addressing these broad themes, some films are deeply intimate narratives about what life is like for a young Sahrawi refugee, or the painful memories of a formerly disappeared political prisoner.

The database, which includes trailers, synopsis, technical specs, posters, contact information and links to the films when available, allows users to conduct searches by themes, countries of production, years, language and subtitles. The catalogue acts both as a window into the history and present of cinema on Western Sahara and as an effective tool for anyone seeking to use film on Western Sahara for artistic, educational, research, media, advocacy or other purposes.

Not long ago film did not exist in Western Sahara: our people are nomads, our culture is primarily oral and our story was rarely told by international filmmakers”, said FiSahara Director Tiba Chagaf.In a short span of time, as FiSahara attracted more filmmakers and the Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School in the camps created the first generation of Sahrawi filmmakers, film has been embraced by my people and become one of the most effective tools to tell our stories. Finding this body of work in one place for the first time now gives us a better understanding of the diversity and reach of films on Western Sahara.”

A Rich, Collaborative Project in Constant Evolution

As more Western Sahara-themed films are released and older works re-surface, FiSahara and Nomads HRC’s team is inviting the public to contribute to the project, which has been in the works for a decade. “This database would not have been possible without the collaboration of filmmakers, activists and many others who have facilitated information to us”, said database co-creator Mayka Guerao, one of the founders of Nomads HRC along with Sara Pujalte and María Carrión. “We invite the public to contact us if they know of films not included in the catalogue, or if they see any errors”.

 Carrión, who is also FiSahara Executive Director, hopes that the catalogue “facilitates the work of film festival programmers, activists, educators and others wanting to screen films on Western Sahara. Screening a film on this forgotten conflict and its tragic consequences on an entire people is one of the most effective ways of raising awareness and breaking the international silence that has surrounded the Sahrawis for almost half a century“. The catalogue’s rich diversity means that “it caters to many different audiences so that an elementary school teacher, a human rights researcher, a community activist or a festival programmer will all find films that adapt to their needs”.

Madrid-based Nomads HRC, whose mission is to support Sahrawi-led cultural, human rights and media projects, has released the catalogue to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the NGO’s founding.  “It is our humble gift to the Sahrawi people in return for the honor of walking with them side by side, ” said co-founder Sara Pujalte.

FiSahara and the Film School receive the 2022 González Sinde Award

FiSahara and the Film School receive the 2022 González Sinde Award

FiSahara and the Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual Training School (EFA) received yesterday the González Sinde Award 2022, awarded by the Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences of Spain. Tiba Chagaf, director of FiSahara and the Film School, María Carrión, executive director of the festival, were in charge of receiving the award from the son of the first president of the Academy, José María González Sinde.

With this award, the Academy recognizes FiSahara “for its extensive and hard-working career making visible, training and entertaining the Sahrawi population through its film, culture and human rights festival, and its dedication to education with its audiovisual training school Abidin Kaid Saleh.” In his speech thanking him for the award, Chagaf also transferred his gratitude “to everyone who had to do with that madness that began a long time ago”, in relation to FiSahara.

“On behalf of the Sahrawi refugees, we are enormously grateful and proud of all those men and women who dedicate themselves to the seventh art and show us every day that men who play fictitious roles go out on a limb most than those who play real roles, said Chagaf, who warned that “we will never give up.”

Carrión, for his part, affirmed that “this festival has survived for almost two decades and will continue to survive because it walks firmly towards freedom in very good company.” The executive director took the opportunity to thank Spanish cinema for its support, “because without it, FiSahara would not have been possible, which was born from a dream shared between the Saharawi people, the world of Spanish cinema and the world of solidarity with the Sahrawi people.

Undelivered bikes

The president of the Academy, Fernando Méndez-Leite, was in charge of conducting an act in which the actress Melani Olivares and the producer Álvaro Longoria dedicated some emotional words to the festival. After the projection of a video in which other figures of Spanish cinema such as Malena Alterio, Carlos Bardem or Juan Diego Botto congratulated the festival and the school, José María González Sinde presented the award.

It was then that a particularly endearing moment occurred, when González Sinde remembered how in his youth, when he worked on the filming sets, he met a security guard named Abidin. Over time they became friends and the guard began collecting used bicycles to send to the refugee camps. González Sinde helped him in this initiative, although he admitted that it was not without a certain shame because of the state of some of the bicycles that he delivered to Abidin, to whom everything he could send to the camps seemed fine.

That Abidin was Abidin Kaid Saleh, the Sahrawi war reporter who was a pioneer in filming movies and who gives his name to the Film School. After his war injury and after having laid the foundations of what would become the SADR Ministry of Information years later, Abidin moved to Spain, where he would die of cancer in 2003, without having obtained Spanish nationality despite having with Spanish ID since 1971.

When González Sinde met Abidin, neither of them could have imagined that years later a Film School would bear his name and it would have already trained Saharawi directors and directors whose productions are screened all over the world. González Sinde changed jobs, lost contact with Abidin and could not hand-deliver those bicycles: “Now it is worth giving this award,” she said at the ceremony, “to compensate for that.” And the audience broke into applause.

Wanibik, by the Algerian Rabah Slimani, wins the White Camel at the 17 edition of FiSahara

Wanibik, by the Algerian Rabah Slimani, wins the White Camel at the 17 edition of FiSahara

Wanibik, the people who live in front of their land, by the Algerian director Rabah Slimani, has been the winning film of the White Camel (symbol of peace for the Saharawi people) in the XVII edition of FiSahara (Western Sahara International Film Festival). The film, shot in the Saharawi refugee population camps, tells the story of a group of students from a film school who, for their final year project, decide to shoot on the Wall of Shame erected and mined by Morocco, in the middle of the current war that is being waged after the breaking of the ceasefire by the Alawite regime in November 2020.

The school that appears in the film is the Abidin Kaid Saleh Film School, created by FiSahara in 2011 in the camp of boulder,Special Award at the San Sebastian Film and Human Rights Festival and recent winner of the González Sinde Award 2022 awarded by the Spanish Film Academy.

Slimani, who refused to premiere his film until the premiere at FiSahara had taken place, said “participating is very special for me and for my team, because FiSahara is the festival of truth and the truth is very important in this type of events and in the cinema. The Algerian director, who describes Wanibik as “a film by the Sahrawis for the Sahrawis”, highlighted that “the first great prize was to project the film on the FiSahara Desert Screen because the smiles of the Sahrawi public in the refugee camps made me feel very proud when I saw them. That is the best award for me.”

For its part, Burkinabè Rising: the art of resistance in Burkina Faso, by the Brazilian-Korean director Iara Lee, won the second prize. The founder and coordinator of the Festival of Cinema and Human Rights and Freedom of Expression La Droit Libre, Abdoulaye Diallo, was in charge of collecting the award. Finally, the film The Nomad Garden, by the Sahrawi director Mohamed Salem Mohamed Ali, received the third of the festival’s awards. The film tells the story of how a young Sahrawi refugee grows vegetables in one of the most inhospitable places in the world, facing water scarcity, extreme temperatures and barren land.

The gala had the participation of the actress Itziar Ituño and the actor Guillermo Toledo as masters of ceremonies. Diallo, the Afro-Colombian social communicator Emiliana Bernard and the filmmaker and journalist Dorothée Myriam Kellou read a statement prepared by them, in which they expressed their gratitude to FiSahara and the Saharawi people, joining “as new ambassadors in the fight for rights, dignity and the reunification of Western Sahara”.

Amaral closed the gala with an acoustic concert in which the Saharawi percussionist Backa Ambark del grupo Alwali joined to perform some of the songs. The group from Zaragoza, which had already pointed out that “we come with the idea that our music is a vehicle to contribute to draw attention to the situation of the Sahrawi people”,stressed that “it is very enriching to see how the Sahrawi people use their culture as an instrument of identity and struggle. For us it is a shock to find ourselves in this tremendously unfair situation and to see the dignity with which they face this situation and this struggle”.

FiSahara is here to stay

During the six days of the festival, the event has developed a multitude of activities (round tables, workshops, journalism master class in Occupied Territories, concert in the dunes, visit to the Film School…), as well as Le Frig, a space for tents traditional Sahrawis in which the different wilayas (camps) compete in different categories. The winners were headed in the national Exemplary Tent competition by the wilaya of Ausserd, followed by those of Smara, El Aaiún, Bojador and Dajla. Likewise, in the local competition, the winning daira (neighborhood) was Mijik, ahead of those from Birganduz; Lguera and Zug, who tied, Aguinit and Tichla.

Tiba Chagaf, director of FiSahara and the Abidin Kaid Saleh Film School, pointed out that “once again, defying all natural, supernatural and human forces, a FiSahara is being made again, which is becoming more consolidated, with a more coordinated and synchronized team to put cinema at the service of a cause that needs be told. Along the same lines, María Carrión, executive director of FiSahara, pointed out that “this edition comes to an end with the bar higher than ever, not only for having managed to resist during these years, but also because it has done so by strengthening itself“.

With the slogan #Decolonize and the screening of films about Palestine, Algeria, Burkina Faso or Western Sahara, “the cinema event in the dunes has generated a twinning between peoples who have suffered and continue to suffer the ravages of colonialism,” added Carrión. From Chagaf’s point of view, “the peculiarity of this edition has been that connection that we have made with three continents at the same time projecting the same film, feeling the same emotions while being so far apart and so united at the same time.”

The director refers to the world premiere that took place during FiSahara of Little Sahara, the short film by director Emilio Martí, which received a Special Mention from the Jury. Despite the technical difficulties, the connection was made simultaneously with FiSahara, the solidarity festival Help me Please of Granada and the Festival Voices from Western Sahara which took place in Xalapa and Mexico City (Mexico).

Cinema becomes strong locally, with young Sahrawis using the seventh art to rescue ancestral customs, but at the same time it has more international capacity”, Carrión stresses. “The FiSahara is here to stay,” concluded Chagaf.

FiSahara celebra su 2ª edición en Madrid

FiSahara celebra su 2ª edición en Madrid

Tras la reciente celebración de su XVI edición en los campamentos del Sáhara, el festival de cine y DDHH llega al Círculo de Bellas Artes del 17 al 19 de diciembre  

FISAHARA celebra su 2ª edición en MADRID homenajeando a la actriz Pilar Bardem

Apenas dos semanas después de la clausura de la XVI edición de FiSahara (Festival Internacional de Cine del Sáhara) en los campamentos de población refugiada saharaui tras dos años de ausencia por la pandemia, la Pantalla del Desierto tendrá su eco en el corazón de Madrid con la 2ª Edición de FiSahara Madrid, que se celebrará del 17 al 19 de diciembre en el Cine Estudio del Círculo de Bellas Artes. Esta edición se realizará en memoria de la actriz Pilar Bardem, muy querida por el pueblo saharaui y gran defensora de la causa desde el inicio del conflicto en el Sáhara Occidental.

FiSahara Madrid toma el relevo del FiSahara celebrado en Ausserd con su lema #RompamosElSilencio, acercando el Sáhara Occidental a públicos internacionales en un momento crítico en el que la reanudación del conflicto armado en el Sáhara cumple un año, la población saharaui en el Sáhara ocupado por Marruecos sufre una ola de brutal represión y se libra otra guerra, ésta por los recursos naturales saharauis, en el Tribunal de Justicia Europeo.

“Pilar significó mucho para nuestro pueblo, estuvo a nuestro lado desde que Marruecos invadió nuestra tierra y siempre alzó su voz por la justicia, señalando sobre todo al gobierno de España como responsable de nuestra tragedia”, asegura Tiba Chagaf, director Nacional de Cine y Teatro del Ministerio de Cultura de la RASD. “Por eso queremos recordarle y darle las gracias en su ciudad, Madrid, y agradecer a su familia haber estado también a nuestro lado. Es la segunda vez que traemos el festival a Madrid y lo hacemos, además, tras el éxito de la XVI edición de FiSahara en campamentos, lo que nos llena de orgullo e ilusión para seguir llevando nuestra causa por todo el mundo a través del cine y la cultura”.

La programación de esta edición “es cañera, ágil, impactante, porque es urgente que despertemos ante un conflicto que también es nuestro, es necesario que sepamos que nuestro país exporta armas a Marruecos y que en nuestros platos hay pescado y tomates robados al pueblo saharaui, y es imprescindible que aprendamos qué podemos hacer para no ser cómplices de esta enorme injusticia”, según María Carrión, directora ejecutiva de FiSahara. “Queremos que el público esté al borde de su asiento tanto durante las proyecciones como en los coloquios, y que se levante habiendo descubierto cómo un pequeño pueblo como el saharaui sigue sacando de su baúl herramientas creativas y sorprendentes para defenderse contra Goliath, que es Marruecos”.

El evento conjuga el cine y la fotografía — a la entrada el público podrá disfrutar de la exposición fotográfica de la Plataforma Saguia El Hamra — con la participación de expertxs, artistas y activistas que en diferentes mesas redondas ofrecerán las claves de la resistencia saharaui en escenarios tan diversos como la cultura, la economía global, los tribunales internacionales o el rescate de la memoria histórica.

Expolio, minas antipersona y cine 100% saharaui

FiSahara Madrid echará a andar el 17 de diciembre con una velada dedicada al expolio de los recursos naturales en el Sáhara Occidental, un tema de rabiosa actualidad tras la reciente anulación por parte del Tribunal de Justicia Europeo de los acuerdos comerciales entre la UE y Marruecos por incluir recursos naturales en Sáhara ocupado por Marruecos. Una serie de cortometrajes ilustrará el impacto del expolio: Ocupación SA nombra a empresas españolas que lo realizan, Delivery se centra en los esfuerzos de dos activistas por llegar hasta el CEO de otra empresa expoliadora y Sólo son peces, candidata a Mejor Cortometraje Documental en la edición de los Goya de 2021, muestra el impacto de la ocupación y el expolio para la población refugiada saharaui que vive de la ayuda humanitaria.

Y para conocer la realidad de saharauis bajo ocupación que luchan contra el expolio se estrenará el corto documental Sultana Libre, producido por el colectivo saharaui Equipe Media, que relata un año de arresto domiciliario y brutal represión por parte de agentes marroquíes que sufre la conocida defensora de DDHH Sultana Jaya, con imágenes grabadas por la propia activista desde su casa de Bojador. El arresto de Jaya, que ha sido denunciado por numerosas organizaciones internacionales de DDHH y por la ONU, se debe a su militancia a favor de la autodeterminación pero también por su lucha contra el expolio.

Tras las proyecciones y durante el coloquio “¿Estamos comiendo pescado saharaui robado? Del mar a nuestro plato: radiografía del expolio”, el público podrá interactuar con activistas y expertxs en primera línea de la lucha contra el saqueo de recursos naturales del Sáhara como Erik Hagen (Western Sahara Resource Watch), Juan Soroeta (Profesor Titular de Derecho Internacional Público y Relaciones Internacionales en la UPV/EHU) o Abdulah Arabi, representante del Frente Polisario en España.

La segunda jornada (18 Dic), dedicada al Cine y Artivismo Saharaui, proyectará la película, Mutha y la muerte de Hamma-Fuku, cortometraje preseleccionado este año para los Premios Goya 2022 que narra la historia de una joven saharaui que se juega la vida para desminar el muro de separación marroquí que parte el Sáhara Occidental en dos, donde Marruecos ha sembrado más de siete millones de minas antipersona — y actual escenario del conflicto armado.

Y directamente de la Pantalla del Desierto de Ausserd llegarán los cortos saharauis de cineastas de la Escuela de Formación Audiovisual (EFA) Abidin Kaid Saleh, creada por FiSahara en 2011 en el campamento de Bojador: Toufa (1er Premio en la última XVI edición de FiSahara), En busca de Tirfas y El Precio de la Belleza (ambas 2º Premio ex-aequo en XVI FiSahara), con historias sobre el exilio, el desempleo juvenil y los cánones de belleza. Cerrará ese día la video-semblanza realizada por el colectivo Saharawi Voice de Tiba Chagaf, director de la EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh, que participará en el coloquio “La revolución del cine saharaui” junto a Mutha Hamma Feccu, protagonista de Mutha; Salma Mustafa, guionista del El Precio de la Belleza; Lafdal Mohamed Salem, director de En busca de Tirfas y estudiante en el Instituto del Cine Madrid (ICM) y Nadhira Mohamed Buhoy, protagonista de Wilaya (Pedro Pérez Rosado) y estudiante en el ICM.

Premios Goya 2022 y homenaje a Pilar Bardem

Los Premios Goya 2022 también estarán presentes en FiSahara Madrid con la proyección el sábado de la cinta de Arturo Dueñas, Dajla: Cine y Olvido, seleccionada por la Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas para competir como Mejor Cortometraje Documental esta próxima edición. La película muestra la rutina que se vive en el campamento de población refugiada de Dajla y cómo ésta se rompe con la llegada de FiSahara para, concluida su celebración, volver a caer en el olvido por parte de la Comunidad Internacional.

Ese mismo sábado 18 de diciembre FiSahara Madrid rendirá un sentido homenaje a la actriz Pilar Bardem, fallecida el pasado mes de julio. La actriz y expresidenta de Aisge siempre estuvo comprometida con la causa saharaui, convirtiéndose en una de las voces más poderosas a favor de la libertad y los DDHH en el Sáhara Occidental.

FiSahara Madrid pondrá su broche final el domingo 19 de diciembre con la premier de Un viaje hacia nosotros, película de Luis Cintora protagonizada por Pepe Viyuela quien, siguiendo los pasos de su abuelo republicano, refugiado en Francia tras la Guerra Civil, conecta esa historia con la del pueblo saharaui, refugiado en los campamentos de Argelia. Le seguirá el coloquio “La memoria y el presente, cuestión de identidad”, en el que participarán Pepe Viyuela y Tiba Chagaf, con la periodista Ebbaba Hameida como moderadora.

La venta de entradas para FiSahara Madrid (3€ euros por sesión) ya está disponible en la página web del Círculo de Bellas Artes.

Diez años de EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh, un proyecto con mucho futuro

Diez años de EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh, un proyecto con mucho futuro

Diez años de EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh, un proyecto con mucho futuro

Cuando en 2009 se puso la primera piedra de la que se convertiría en la Escuela de Formación Audiovisual (EFA) Abidin Kaid Saleh, hubo quienes pensaron que aquel proyecto, nacido en el seno de FiSahara, no pasaría de ser un bonito sueño. Sin embargo, un año después se inauguraba y en 2011 comenzaba a echar a andar la primera promoción de cineastas saharauis. Se acaba de cumplir el décimo aniversario y aquel bonito sueño no sólo es ya una realidad, sino que tiene ante sí un futuro prometedor repleto de nuevos proyectos.

En nuestro último viaje a los campamentos de población refugiada saharaui tuvimos oportunidad de conocer a la nueva promoción que ha iniciado su formación audiovisual en la EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh, situada en la wilaya de Bojador. Chicos y chicas saharauis, llegadxs de diferentes campamentos, que aprovechan la residencia con que cuenta el centro y cuyo objetivo es poder dedicarse profesionalmente al mundo audiovisual, ya sea en cine, televisión, radio, fotografía…

Minatu es una de las alumnas más nuevas, apenas lleva dos meses y nos cuenta con una sonrisa en la cara que “estoy aprendiendo muchas cosas; ya sé conectar todos los equipos y he aprendido a proyectar”. Otras, como Jadiyetu, está en su segundo año y ya se encuentra inmersa en las asignaturas de edición de audio y vídeo. Lo mismo sucede con Aza, que nos explica que “estoy aprendiendo muchas cosas de montaje con toda la informática aplicada al cine”.

El responsable de ello es Zanadi, el profesor experto en informática. Durante nuestra reunión, resulta emocionante escucharle referirse al grupo como “una gran familia”… y vaya sí lo es, porque al encuentro no ha faltado nadie, incluyendo a Deiga, la cocinera; Brahim, el vigilante y conserje; Malainin, el conductor; y Daday, el responsable de logística. Zanadi no sería el único que emplea ese concepto, “familia”, para referirse al grupo humano que tenemos ante nosotras, con esos rostros de ilusión y esas ganas de comerse el mundo: lo harían también Malainin, Abdala o Muna, la profesora de Guión amante del teatro.

Hassan es otro de los miembros de la familia, está en su primer curso después de haber estado mucho tiempo intentando conseguir plaza en el centro y se le ilumina la cara al relatar que “estoy descubriendo un mundo nuevo, aprendiendo el sonido en el cine, a mirar las películas de otro modo”. En su punto de mira están realizadores saharauis salidos ya de esta escuela, como Brahim Chagaf, Lafdal Mohamed Salem o Ahmed Mohamed, cuyos cortometrajes recorren festivales por todo el mundo.

La escuela, 100% gestionada por saharauis, cuenta ahora con la dirección de Tiba Chagaf, director nacional de Cine y Teatro en el Ministerio de Cultura de la RASD que, tomando el revelo de la magnífica labor realizada por los equipos anteriores, tiene en cartera un alud de nuevos proyectos alrededor de la EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh. Proyectos que ya iremos publicando y, claro está, entre los que se encuentra nuestro festival de cine FiSahara. Ya lo dice Hamudi, fotoperiodista que ha colaborado en el proyecto de Solar Cinema y que, según advierte, “llevo dos años esperando la celebración de otro gran FiSahara en los campamentos”, que por el impacto de la pandemia de COVID-19 se ha tenido que ir posponiendo… algo a lo que habrá que ir poniendo remedio.

FiSahara returns to Sahrawi refugee camps

FiSahara returns to Sahrawi refugee camps

After almost two years of pandemic and a year into the renewal of the decades-old armed conflict in Western Sahara, FiSahara‘s Desert Screen will finally light up November 28th-December 1st with the festival’s 16th Edition. The Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, home to indigenous people of Western Sahara who fled the Moroccan invasion of their homeland 46 years ago, will host an edition dedicated to #BreakingTheSilence on the forgotten conflict, featuring Sahrawi-made short films, international screenings, roundtables, workshops, concerts and a Sahrawi traditional cultural fair in the Ausserd refugee camp. Originally slated to take place in April of 2020, FiSahara had to be postponed due to Covid-19 shutdowns.

Central to this edition is the Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School in the camps, born 10 years ago from FiSahara’s film workshops and whose student and staff will organize FiSahara’s screenings and debates. The school, an incubator for refugee-made films that capture and transmit Sahrawi oral narratives between generations and tell stories about the lives of Sahrawi youth, is pioneering Sahrawi cinematography as a new art form, and short films by its former students and other Sahrawi artists will compete in FiSahara’s official section.

They tell powerful stories: a Sahrawi girl’s anguish during the 1975 flight from Morocco’s brutal invasion (Toufa by Brahim Chagaf, named best short international film by the Montes de María Audiovisual Festival in Colombia); the plight of two unemployed youth who gamble their savings to search for buried treasures in the desert (Searching for Tirfas by Lafdal Med Salm Haimuda, winner of the Uruguay Film School audience award); the beauty trap suffered by Sahrawi women (The Price of Beauty by Ahmed Moh Lamin) and the 60 year-old silenced story of French bombings against Sahrawi nomads (The year of balls by artist Mohamed Suleiman).

International screenings include The Idol (Ya Tayr El Tayer) by Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, Il Muro (The Wall) by Italian filmmakers Fiorella Bendoni and Gilberto Mastromatteo, about the Morocco-built 2700-kilometer separation wall in Western Sahara, site of the current armed conflict between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan military, 143 Sahara Street (143, rue du désert) by Algerian filmmaker Hassen Ferhani, an intimate portrait of an Algerian woman vendor in the heart of the Sahara Desert, Lalgam on the Western Sahara minefields by Spanish filmmakers Clara Calvet and Sebastián Riveaud and News From Laayoune, the story of Sahrawi musicians who flee Morocco-occupied Western Sahara by Croatian Đuro Gavran, which won Special Mention by the Václav Havel jury at One World Human Rights Festival in Prague.

“With this edition of FiSahara we are saying that we exist as a people, that we resist against injustice and that film and culture are our means to call attention to our plight and struggle”, said Tiba Chagaf, Film and Theater Director for the Sahrawi Ministry of Culture, co-director of FiSahara and director of the film school. “While other festivals were able to move online during the pandemic, FiSahara only makes sense when its screens light up before Sahrawi audiences, so we waited until now to hold this edition”.

In the past decade the Sahrawi film school has become a financially sustainable project that is one hundred percent Sahrawi-run — no longer dependent on outside instructors and able to multiply the impact of film in the refugee camps. “Years ago, when FiSahara’s screens went dark, film would disappear from our lives,” remembers Chagaf. “Today, film is present year-round thanks to the film school and to our mobile film project Solar Cinema Western Sahara, which takes workshops, screenings and roundtables to all the camps year-round”.

“This edition truly demonstrates the resilience of the Sahrawi people, who are still standing strong despite the pandemic and the war”, said FiSahara Executive Director María Carrión. “As our theme says this year, FiSahara is breaking the silence. It is condemning the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara and its human rights violations. It is asking for freedom for the people of Western Sahara”.

Mini FiSahara and Much More

For this edition’s Mini FiSahara, the festival has strengthened its collaboration with the Bubisher network of community libraries, which will host children’s screenings in Dajla, Bojador and Smara. Thanks to Miyu Distribución, Sahrawi children will watch 15 short animated films by film schools from France, Denmark, Finland and Czech Republic. Libraries will also screen The Idol and News from Laayoune in all the camps for youth and families.

For four days, the festival will also offer roundtables on the role of film in inter-generational cultural transmission and on the use of film to document human rights violations in occupied Western Sahara, photography workshops and trainings on how to edit video and photos on mobile phones for Sahrawi elders, as well as concerts and a traditional Sahrawi cultural fair known as Le Frig. In its closing ceremony, the festival will give an audience award to the best film, as well as prizes for the best workshop, traditional tent (haima) and cultural performance.

This edition is supported by Bertha Foundation, Movies that Matter, Dimes Foundation and Nomads HRC.

FiSahara’s International Echo in Madrid

Because the pandemic still does not permit international travel to participate in FiSahara’s 16th Edition, the festival will hold the Second Edition of FiSahara Madrid on December 17/18/19 with the aim of raising awareness on the conflict. Located in the heart of Madrid, it will offer screenings and debates centering on the conflict, the plunder and cultural resistance. It will honour Spanish actress Pilar Bardem, mother of actor Javier Bardem, who dedicated much of her life to supporting the Sahrawi struggle and died this past July.

FiSahara announces the celebration of a special edition in Madrid

FiSahara announces the celebration of a special edition in Madrid

FiSahara (the Western Sahara International Film Festival), a festival that is usually held in the remote Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria whose 2020 edition had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, will hold a special editionin Madrid from the 17th to the 19th of December and will be dedicated to renowned Spanish actress Pilar Bardem. The award-winning actress and activist, who died this past July and whose son is actor-director Javier Bardem, dedicated her life to the Sahrawi cause and was one of FiSahara’s greatest supporters.

The event, with screenings and thematic roundtables, will take place at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, an art hub in central Madrid.

María Carrión, FiSahara’s Executive Director, made the announcement to an international and Sahrawi audience during a special FiSahara event in the Bojador Sahrawi refugee camp this past 15th October – the first public event that FiSahara has been able to hold since the start of the pandemic.

Carrión said that “Pilar worked tirelessly to denounce the great injustice that the Spanish government and the international community are committing against the Sahrawi population, and in gratitude we will pay tribute to her.” She added that “the pandemic continues to prevent us from holding an international edition in the camps, although we hope we can organise one soon. In the meantime, FiSahara Madrid will act as a loudspeaker to shed light on the devastating situation affecting the Sahrawi people through screenings and debates about the conflict, human rights and Sahrawi culture.”

The one-day FiSahara event in the camps, which included a surprise greeting to the audience by Sahrawi human rights defender Sultana Khaya from her house arrest in the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, brought together hundreds of Sahrawis with an international audience that traveled from Europe on the first international flight to the camps since the start of the pandemic and the resumption of armed conflict in Western Sahara.

FiSahara also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Escuela de Formación Audiovisual (EFA) Abidin Kaid Saleh(Sahrawi Film School), a project founded by FiSahara in 2011. During this past decade, dozens of young people who attended the school have become the first generation of Sahrawi filmmakers, giving birth to a new art, Sahrawi cinematography.

The school is now locally run, and its students produced the FiSahara event led by the school’s new director Tiba Chagaf, who also heads the Departments of Film and Theatre of the Ministry of Culture of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD).

The evening included the screening of three short films made by film school alumni and produced by the school, which is part of the Sahrawi Ministry of Culture, with the support of international organisations like Nomads HRC, Prince Claus Fund, Dimes Foundation and Bertha Foundation:

The screenings concluded with the short documentary film Occupation S.A; a project by the Basque NGO “Mundubatand the Brazilian production company Forward Films that denounces the plunder of natural resources of Western Sahara carried out by a group of Spanish companies.

 Sahrawi Cinema, Celebrated

The evening, which included musical performances and dances by the regional Bojador group, concluded with a roundtable moderated by Carrión. Chagaf highlighted “the role that a brand new tool, cinema, plays for the Sahrawi people, not only in defence of our cause, but also to help preserve our culture.” Aicha Babait, a filmmaker from the Occupied Territories who crossed the Wall of Shame to study film at school and who has made the short films War of Peace and My Society, echoed Chagaf’s sentiments, stating that “we use cinema as a constructive instrument to carry our message of peace around the world ”.

Bachir Dkhili, a member of the Nushatta Foundation that, through cinema and journalism, denounces the Moroccan repression from The Occupied Territories, recounted how his organization “was created in order to fight against the blockade that even prevents travel to The Occupied Territories”. Dkhili’s team is exposed every day to torture, imprisonment and even death at the hands of the Moroccans; Dkhili himself had to flee to camps recently after being persecuted, detained and mistreated by the Moroccan police. “To carry a camera in The Occupied Territories is to risk imprisonment,” he said. Nushatta Foundation actively participated in the filming of Occupation S.A.

Sidahmed Jouly, a camp-based Sahrawi activist who co-founded the campaign “Western Sahara Is Not For Sale” that focuses on reporting and denouncing the plunder of Western Sahara, highlighted the success of these types of initiatives: “Thanks to the solidarity movement, the efforts of the Sahrawi people and the Polisario Front, the number of companies that plunder phosphates from Western Sahara has decreased from 11 in 2017 to only three today – two from New Zealand and one from India”.

Closing the evening, Chagaf assured that “the Film School is open to all young people, and the Ministry of Culture will provide all the necessary resources”. Carrión then added that “now you are going to see Tiba and all the students of the Film School taking the cinema to all the dairas [neighborhoods] and all the wilayas [camps]. See you at the next FiSahara”.

The Pioneers School already shows its “Little Sahara”

The Pioneers School already shows its “Little Sahara”

The 20 May Pioneers School was established in 2017 with the aim of serving children between 12 and 16 years old at risk of academic failure or school dropout, coming from different especially vulnerable social situations. Situated in a former military training building a few kilometers from the Bojador camp, this school was the setting in which FiSahara and Nomads HRC launched a two-week Human Rights film workshop aimed at 51 students in February 2020. The children of the Martir Jalil Sidahmed School located in the Bojador camp also participated in this first experience.

The goal was to carry out a pilot project that could be replicated to other schools once the COVID-19 pandemic allowed it. This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the Sahrawi Ministry of Culture, the production of NomadsHRC and the funding of Movies that Matter, Dimes Foundation and the Association of Friends of the Sahrawi People of Basel (Switzerland).

We cannot forget another fundamental figure: the filmmaker and art therapist Emilio Martí, under whose direction Little Sahara was filmed, an animated short in which the students actively participated and the teaser can now be seen:

Martí already had conducted similar workshops in other refugee camps, designed a highly participative methodology that combined lively discussions and screenings with artistic production and storytelling.

Through the cinema, their everyday lives with human rights concepts that relate directly to their socio-political situation as refugees. By the end of the workshop, they were able to understand complex concepts on international human rights through their own lived experiences.

Watching this preview of Little Sahara now is not only motivating but extraordinarily hopeful. Thanks to the work of the dedicated staff and Emilio Martí, the full potential of young people whose talent may have been lost due to their situation of vulnerability comes to light. This has not been the case, demonstrating once again how cinema is a transformative tool that, in the case of these children, makes it easier for them to become agents of change.

The experience has been unforgettable, contributing to increase the motivation and confidence of the children who, through cinema and their creativity, have discovered themselves, opening a new channel towards human rights for the Sahrawi people.