Smack bang in a sun-baked corner of the Algerian desert, the Sahara International Film Festival is quite probably the world’s most remote and remarkable film festival.
All images © Stefan Simanowitz
Now in its ninth year, the festival was the brainchild of Peruvian documentary filmmaker Javier Corcuera. It’s largely organised and funded by donors from Spain, the former colonial land lord of the Western Sahara, and it’s attracted support from world-famous latino celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar. But don’t expect anything like the glitz and red-carpet glamour of Cannes Film Festival, FiSahara takes place in a dusty refugee camp miles away from anything else.
The Festival was created with the sole purpose of sparking awareness about the plight of the 30,000 Saharawi refugees, exiled by Morocco for over 35 years from their native Western Sahara. Each year in May, hundreds of foreign actors, travellers and film makers descend on the desolate town of Dakhla for a gala of makeshift screenings and concerts. The squat, aid-funded land is transformed as a colourful tented village springs up and a multiplex screen rolls down the side of an articulated lorry.
Film screenings might seem like an extraordinary luxury for a community that relies on foreign hand-outs to survive. But the event gives the Dakhla refugees a rare window of insight onto the outside world, a chance to go to the movies. The festival organisers believe that culture is an important part of humanitarian aid. Educational initiatives have also been borne off the back of the event, including audio-visual training workshops and the recent inauguration of a camp-based film school enabling the refugees to document and promote their own stories and culture.
This year’s festival will be held from the 1st to the 6th of May 2012. Visitors generally fly from Madrid or London to Tindouf in Algeria where they are driven to the camp and stay with the refugee families.
For more information contact Stefan Simanowitz – e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.