Theatre, Music & Film Events

February – March 2021

“After months of cultural drought, we were thirsty for the creative process to begin once again” explained Abidin Salec, one of the members of the team

The COVID-19 pandemic and the return to war in Western Sahara left the Sahrawi cultural community in the refugee camps with very little access to culture and entertainment. With all international events canceled, the film school closed for the year and scarce funding for arts and culture, there were few opportunities for Sahrawi refugees to enjoy communal events around music, poetry, theater and film.

Middle and high schools put on plays written by students, women’s musical groups re-convened to compose and perform after almost a year of silenced microphones, and community libraries became improvised movie theaters where screenings were followed by animated debates. Youth and children were at the center of these activities — both as organizers and as participants.

This project allowed schools from all five refugee camps to participate in a theater production contest that took place in February. With the help of their teachers, students wrote, produced and performed plays. Kids’ and youth theater, which had been dormant for years, came alive with stories about the kids’ everyday lives in exile, the recent renewal of war and dreams of returning to their promised homeland, which they have never seen. In particular, students acted out stories about resistance inside the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara — many featuring Sultana Khaya, a beloved Sahrawi human rights defender who had been under house arrest with her entire family for over one hundred days.

Titles include The shot of Clemency, Conversation with Letters, Responding to the Call and Sultana.

Music was also infused with new energy through a competition between women’s musical groups, each of which represented a different refugee camp. The competition also took place in February.

These groups carry on Sahrawi oral tradition through songs that reflect a plethora of issues — from traditional Sahrawi stories, to colonial times, the war with Morocco, life in exile, or the Sahrawi struggle for self-determination. They sing to their martyrs and their political prisoners, and remember their elders.

Cinema capped off the activities of this project in collaboration with the Bubisher community libraries — a network of brick-and-mortar and mobile libraries throughout the camps, mostly run by young women, that foment reading among children and youth.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the libraries turned into cinemas and screened the acclaimed film They are Just Fish by Paula Iglesias and Ana Serna, in collaboration with the EFA Abidin Kaid Saleh film school, that tells the story of how three Sahrawi women built and ran a fish farm in the refugee camps, in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

For the rest of the week, the libraries worked on two short films. One features conversations between children and women who are working outside the home.

The second film is called Innovators, and is inspired on the film They are Just Fish, and the premise that necessity is the mother of invention. If three Sahrawi women refugees can successfully operate a fish farm in the middle of the desert, what other innovative ideas can children and youth come up with? Through the use of mobile phones, participants are filmed drawing and describing their inventions.

Partners: Sahrawi Ministry of Culture, Bubisher

Supported by: Prince Claus Fund, Dimes Foundation

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