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.