FiSahara, a Film Festival in a Saharan Refugee Camp

May 21, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

An Algerian refugee camp hosted the 11th annual Saharan National Film Festival (known as FiSahara) last week, bringing films from around the world to Sahrawi community, who have been exiled from West Sahara for decades and have made their home in the Dakhla refugee camp. For five days, guests flown in by plane or driven by bus lived with the Sahrawi people as they screened 30 films, which included the Oscar nominated documentary The Square, cartoons, mainstream flicks and films made by Sahrawi filmmakers.

The Guardian, who reported on the event, interviewed a 27 year old Sahrawi woman who was premiering her documentary Raíces y Clamor about her life and education as an adopted child in Spain.

“I am slowly coming to terms with life in exile,” she says. “Some people say I am lucky to have escaped the refugee camp and got an education but the reality is that I have spent my life apart from the people I love. We all suffer whether in the camps, whether in the occupied territories or whether in exile.”

The festival is a wonderfully successful experiment that debunks many western myths about the frivolity of culture for communities living through difficult circumstances. The Sahrawi government-in-exile’s minister of culture Jadiya Hamdi told The Guardian:

“Creating our own film culture is important in the nation-building process because culture can carry an audience far beyond any political speech.”

This sentiment seems to be a consensus at FiSahara. Dirty Wars screenwriter David Riker, who held a script writing workshop during the festival put it this way:

“I have taught similar workshops for many years in many parts of the world, but I have never had such an exceptional group of students. I think the reason is simply this – that the Sahrawis have an overwhelming need to tell their stories.”

More information about FiSahara is available on their website.

(Photo: The Guardian)