Friday, 15 May 2009

The Independent: How a Saharan Refugee Camp Launched an International Film Festival

In covering the Sahara International Film Festival, Stefan Simanowitz's article in The Independent features both Sandblast, the Caravanserai Acting Studios and Free Western Sahara Campaign: "A company of actors from London performed a play based on the real story of a Saharawi refugee to raucous audience reaction, and a team from Roehampton University, led by the professor Isabel Santaolalla, a trustee of the London-based Saharawi charity, Sandblast, ran a "digital postcard" workshop. The postcards filmed by refugees have been put online, allowing their messages to be seen around the world and by their extended families living in occupied Western Sahara."

Simanowitz's piece contextualises the festival and its film resources in its conflictuous environment by drawing upon the historical determinants and witness reports of a 32-year old woman who has lived her whole life in the camps. He also touches on the delicate reliance of the Saharawi and their friends on celebrities to pledge on their behalf for increased publicity. Simanowitz wrote: "The publicity has helped campaigners in Spain to gather a quarter of a million signatories to petition the Spanish government to act to support the Saharawis' demand for self-determination. The festival has two aims: to provide entertainment and educational opportunities for the refugees, and to raise awareness of the situation of the Saharawi people, who have been in exile from Western Sahara for more than 30 years."

Simanowitz may possibly go too far with framing this cultural event as something that "gives the people in the camps a sense of purpose". According to the article, Jadiya Hamdi, the Minister of Culture of the SADR, is quoted to say, that "empty time is a dangerous things. It can kill a human soul". In my personal opinion, this is not giving this artful and cultural effort enough credit and undermines the incentives and the work the Saharawi, international volunteers and other parties put into the project.

Am I wrong in this interpretation of the article? What do you think?

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