Western Sahara International Film Festival

The Western Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara) is an annual film and cultural festival held in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Southwestern Algeria, home to around 150.000 refugees from the Western Sahara.

Held in one of the world’s most remote locations in the heart of the Sahara Desert, FiSahara combines film screenings with roundtables, workshops, concerts and parades, a traditional Sahrawi cultural fair, children’s entertainment and, for international visitors, a chance to live with Sahrawi refugee families and learn firsthand about their reality.

FiSahara’s unique evening screenings take place outdoors, under a canopy of stars. Sahrawi families and international visitors gather together to watch films that combine human rights themes with family entertainment and FiSahara’s trademark Western Sahara-themed films, many of them made by newly minted Sahrawi filmmakers.

Created in 2003 by Sahrawi cultural activists in the camps and Spanish civil society out of a shared dream to bring film and much needed attention to the camps, FiSahara has since grown into a world-renowned international forum for cultural exchange, solidarity and human rights advocacy. It seeks to entertain and empower the Sahrawi people through film, as well as to shed international light about the Western Sahara’s ignored conflict through the presence of international journalists, filmmakers and activists. As Sahrawis have discovered film, they have embraced this new art as a powerful tool for self-expression, cultural resistance and human rights activism, giving birth to the Abidin Kaid Saleh film school in the camps and to a brand new cultural expression: Sahrawi cinematography.

In 2013 FiSahara joined the Human Rights Network, composed of over 40 human rights film festivals from all over the world. Since 2019 it has been a member of the HRFN’s Board, helping to lead and shape its annual activities. FiSahara’s team co-edited and co-wrote Setting up a Human Rights Film Festival, a practical handbook for festival organizers that has been translated to several languages. The Network’s member festivals have become strategic partners to FiSahara, frequently organizing FiSahara film sections that help reach and raise awareness on Western Sahara among new audiences.

FiSahara is unique for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because it is a festival that aspires to disappear — with the hope of reappearing in a freed Western Sahara. Until then, FiSahara is a necessary and welcome event for refugees and represents one of the most important cultural celebrations of the year.

The project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Culture of SADR in the refugee camps, The Polisario Front in Spain and NomadsHRC.

NomadsHRC works on the festival’s international programming, guests, logistics, fundraising, executive production and executive direction. It also provides its human rights content and organizes international screenings of Western Sahara themed films all over the world. NomadsHRC’s three co-founders have worked on FiSahara since its founding, taking on different organizational roles. Our close collaboration in FiSahara eventually led to the creation of NomadsHRC based on a shared vision and mission of working for the freedom of Western Sahara through culture, human rights and media.

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