It Is Better To See Once: The World’s Remotest Festival FiSahara

It is known as “Cannes of the desert”. Javier Bardem, the famous Spanish actor, described it as “nothing short of a miracle.” One can find it in the Devil’s Garden. The lucky winner will leave with the prize of…a white camel! Every summer for the last 12 years in the heart of the burning dessert of Algeria a beautiful meeting is taking place. Either you are an enthusiast of movies or not, this film festival will definitely amaze you.

The worlds’ most remote film festival and the only one held in a refugee camp is called FiSahara. Filmmakers, artists, journalists, human rights activists, cinephils gather every year in Tindouf in the Sahrawi refugee camps in order to attend the annual Sahara International Film Festival.
For the past 40 years this remote corner of the world has been home for the Sahrawi people, who live in exile from their land. When Spain, the former colonial power of Western Sahara, withdrew from their territory, Morocco and Mauritania invaded the country. Thousands of people flee away in 1975 when the clashes broke between Polisario Front, the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement and the Moroccan forces. Since the occupation continues, Sahrawi refugees have been waiting for a never-coming referendum of self-determination. To this day Western Sahara remains Africa’s last colony.

The victims of the internationally invisible crisis, the 150.000 Sahrawi refugees haven’t lost their strength though. They believe that culture can be a vehicle for social change. Belonging to the Human Rights Film Network, Fisahara brings culture and hope to the lives of the refugees, lacking elements during the rest of the year. Created in 2003, it is at its heart a human rights film festival serving three goals: entertain and empower, bring educational opportunities to the Sahrawi people and raise international awareness about the unsolved conflict.

The 5-day event is divided in two scales: the film festival and the film school. The first includes day and night open-air film screenings, roundtables and thematic haimas, workshops and concerts in the sand. If you also want to enjoy some sports under the burning sun, football matches and camel races are held. In 2013 the festival launched a human rights film section including a range of human rights-centered films portraying struggles, stories and characters that Sahrawis identify with. Inaugurated in 2011 the year-round film school of FiSahara, called the Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School, offers a two-year curriculum and is designed to train a generation of Sahrawi filmmakers.

Fisahara has attracted over time many famous figures of the global movie industry, singers and human rights activists. Javier Bardem, the Spanish actor visited FiSahara in 2008. Later in 2012, he produced the documentary “Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony”, directed by Alvario Longoria. The film was screened at the United Nations and the US Congress and has been used as a tool to raise awareness about the Sahrawi people. The Spanish director and actor Pedro Almodovar told in January at the British Film Institute: “it’s very important for the Saharawi refugees to see films from around the world. To support them is not a question of humanitarianism. It’s about humanity, about having heart.”

This year the 12th edition will be held in Dakhla refugee camp from April 28 to May 3, 2015. Dakhla, with no electricity or paved roads, is the most remote of all the camps in the area. Guests will get to stay with local families, join their meals and try to bear with the desert sun that can reach 50 degrees during the summer days. The full programme of films, guests and headline performers is expected to be announced soon. Stay tuned!

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