LIFE IS WAITING: REFERENDUM & RESISTANCE IN WESTERN SAHARA
Monday 24TH OCTOBER 7:30PM
Q+A with Saharawi cultural activist and filmmaker Brahim Buhaia, human rights activist from Western Sahara Sidi Ahmed, and social anthropologist Alice Wilson.
Movement is the last thing we usually associate with a refugee camp. But it is that precise combination – of stasis and motion – that makes Life is Waiting such an inspiring documentary. Set in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf, South West Algeria (which have existed since 1975, when Morocco began occupying Western Sahara), the film focuses on ordinary people’s everyday, non-violent resistance to their oppression through art and creativity. Music, painting, and calligraphy dance across the screen as the history of the Saharawi people’s plight is brought to life.
The screening will be followed by a discussion with Saharawi cultural activist and filmmaker Brahim Buhaia, human rights activist from Western Sahara Sidi Ahmed, and social anthropologist Alice Wilson.
St John's Old Divinity School
All Saints Passage
Cambridge CB2 1TP
Director: Iara Lee
Running time: 59 mins
Language: Arabic Hassaniya, Spanish, English, and French with English subtitles
review by jonathan mitchell
Brazilian film-maker Iara Lee’s impassioned and beautifully film begins with dispossessed voices raised in a street demonstration by Sahrawi exiles in Madrid. The successive waves of colonisation are laid bare: Spain’s colonial ambitions replaced in 1975 by a Moroccan land-grab, followed by a war of resistance by the POLISARIO Front that ended with a promised referendum on the future of Western Sahara in 1991 that has never materialised. Under the pretence of self-protection, the occupiers have since constructed a vast 2700 km long wall, the second longest such structure in the world. Thousands of Sahrawi now live in camps in western Algeria, a country whose on-going conflict with Morocco is curiously absent from the film’s narrative.
Refusing the easy option of a voice-of-God commentary, the film opts instead to intersperse textual information with a series of interviews with those directly involved. It is these voices of the disenfranchised that add a ferocious edge: this is our experience – what is the rest of the world doing about this? The answer, sadly, appears to be very little. The UN Peacekeepers are shown to be merely maintaining a status quo that favours Moroccan territorial interests at the expense of the wishes of the Sahrawi people.
We hear from the calligrapher still reproducing traditional Sahrawi themes, highly apt in a film that fuses text and the spoken word. It also comes as no surprise that sound and music form the foundation of Brazilian film-maker Iara Lee’s documentary as she has previously published works on the history of electronica. Flitoox, a rap/graffiti artist, speaks of the peaceful resistance of tagging and the violence this act is met with by the authorities. Marien Hassan sings resistance songs from exile. It comes as no surprise that sound and music weave together the fabric of the documentary as she has previously published works on the history of electronica. A poet in exile writes of the tragedy and pain of their people: words of protest are made visible/audible and gain potency. In a cruel echo of recent South American history, we see The Mothers of the Disappeared and the ways their attempts to keep memories alive and in the public domain are repressed. The direct action of singer Amminatou Haidar’s hunger strike shows how resistance becomes corporeal.
The brutal break up of demonstration at Gdein Izek in November 2010 was brought to the world by citizen journalists and bloggers, at considerable risk to themselves and relatives in the occupied territory. Meanwhile, the banning of traditional Sahrawi tents or Khamas is subverted by their reappearance in public.
In addition to these everyday acts of resistance, creativity and image-making seem to provide some hope for the future. The Artifiriti festival promotes “Resistance Through Art” and the UNHCR-supported FiSahara film festival is held annually in the Dakha refugee camp, receiving considerable support from the European film community, including director Pedro Almodovar.
At its close, perhaps the most arresting image in the film is when a group of protesters brave a minefield to “punish the wall with flowers” – the flowers are placed on the implacable wall, to the audience of “peacekeepers”. The impression is clear: day-to-day resistance is ongoing but when will the world take heed?