The 12th edition of the world’s remotest film festival – held in a refugee camp deep in the Sahara desert – ended last tonight with a star-studded red carpet ceremony at which the acclaimed documentary, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, scooped the top prize: a white camel.
The award for the film, which documents the search for justice following the Guatemalan genocide, was accepted by US director Pamela Yates and presented by Game of Thrones star and granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, Oona Chaplin.
It was just one of over 30 films screened at the Western Sahara International Film Festival (known as FiSahara) which ran from 28 April and was attended by over 300 people from the worlds of film, culture and human rights alongside thousands of Sahrawi refugees exiled from Western Sahara for almost 40 years.
In addition to features, animations, documentaries and short films, the festival also screened films made by the Sahrawi refugees attending the film school opened in 2011 with the support of FiSahara. A collection of eight short films made by the refugees picked up third prize and were selected for a prestigious new Raindance prize which will see them screened at the Raindance Film Festival in London in October 2015.
The second prize for the Venezuelan film Musawat (Equality) was collected by the film’s director Darwin Dikó Cañas and the Special Prize for the Oscar-nominated Timbuktu was accepted by Mauritanian actor, Salem Dendou.
The Human Rights Award was presented to Nora de Cortiñas, 85, Argentinian founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo movement, who also met Sahrawi mothers of the disappeared whilst she was in the refugee camp. She said: “I made this journey to the desert because I feel great solidarity with the Sahrawi people and their call for decolonisation and respect of human rights in Western Sahara. I have been deeply impressed with FiSahara which is far more powerful and more spiritual than other film festivals.”
Oona Chaplin, who presented the awards said: “I have heard that my father’s films were some of the first to play here. He would be so proud the films he made about the struggle for dignity, about love, about injustice and about the fight against oppression were shown at FiSahara. Together we will make the world an audience for the Sahrawi story, the Sahrawi struggle. This festival is a beautiful expression of our common struggle for freedom.”
French actress Lizzie Brochere (American Horror Story) said: “Through film, FiSahara not only offers rare entertainment and educational opportunities to an abandoned population but also helps to shine a light on their plight. Many people do not know that these refugees are here, or about their 40 year struggle for justice in Western Sahara and France’s shameful role in obstructing progress.”
FiSahara executive director, María Carrión said: “Twelve years ago we planted a seed in this desert and it continues to grow. Today, the Sahrawi have adopted cinema as an essential tool with which to defend their culture and fight for their freedom.”
Celebrations were tinged with frustration as the film festival coincided with a decision by the UN Security Council not to expand the UN peace-keeping mandate in Western Sahara to include human rights monitoring.
Film stars attending the festival, including Oona Chaplin, Lizzie Brochere and Pepe Viyuela, echoed this sentiment, adding their voices to those of Viggo Mortensen, Javier Bardem and Ken Loach celebrating FiSahara and condemning Monday’s decision by the UN. Writing in a letter to Ban ki Moon alongside over 100 other leading figures in arts, culture and human rights, they said: “Despite having suffered under Moroccan occupation or exile in desolate refugee camps the Sahrawi people have continued to pursue a non-violent path of negotiation through the United Nations. mapas fisicos This courageous choice for peace and diplomacy has yet again been met with indifference from countries and governments that have the power to broker a fair solution in Africa’s last colony.”
Viggo Mortensen’s film, Far From Man, was screened despite the fact that the star had to cancel his visit to FiSahara at the last minute due to the death of his mother. He send a of support message to the festival saying that “through
solitary we can overcome the most difficult of obstacles.”
Films are projected at night onto huge outdoor screens and this year’s programme – themed around Universal Justice – included award-winning films ranging from documentaries to animations, short-films to Oscar-winning blockbusters. There will also be audiovisual workshops aimed at teaching the refugees film-making techniques and screenings of films made by refugees themselves.
At its heart FiSahara is a human rights film festival which aims to raise awareness of the plight the refugees. The festival, part of the Human Rights Film Network and whose partners include Bertha Foundation, Movies that Matter and WITNESS, not only offers entertainment and educational opportunities for the refugees but serves to remind them that they have not been forgotten.