Case Study: Dajla - Cinema and Oblivion Arturo Dueñas highlights an unresolved and often forgotten conflict.
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Case Study: Dajla - Cinema and Oblivion

Arturo Dueñas highlights an unresolved and often forgotten conflict.

They've been living in refugee camps for 45 years, forgotten by international media. Filmmaker Arturo Dueñas first came into contact with the Sahrawi people while attending the Sahara International Film Festival, also known as FiSahara. He realised how interesting and necessary it was to get their story out in the open. After the recent screening at the Shift Film Festival, Dueñas tells us all about his project.

"The visits to the camps were, in a way, family visits as well."

20 september 2021

Film festival in refugee camp

"In my film, I explore the plight of the Sahrawi people, a resilient population of 150,000, often forgotten by the international media. Any middle-aged Spaniard is, to a greater or lesser extent, aware of the Sahrawi question. Until 1976 it was a Spanish province, the last European colony in Africa. Many Spaniards even did their military service there. At that time Spain abandoned the territory, which was occupied by Morocco, forcing part of its population to flee and settle on the other side of the border, in Algerian territory, in refugee camps.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of this conflict, and after 45 years it has not been resolved. As the title of the film would suggest, Cinema and Oblivion, it's a forgotten conflict. This film wants to do that, bring this situation out of oblivion.

I had filmed a documentary about the journey of a group of young people to the occupied territories of Western Sahara, and this documentary was screened at the FiSahara, a film festival that takes place every year in Dakhla, one of the refugee camps. And the idea came up to make a film reflecting daily life in the camps and the influence of this film festival on the population."

An observational film

"I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to make an observational film, without intervening in reality, without doing interviews, without voice-over, without incidental music. I simply set up the camera and let it record everyday life. I mean, what we did was let life pass in front of the camera. Nothing happens, only life happens.

This is how we recorded many hours during three trips, of about ten days each, that we made in three consecutive years to the refugee camps, which were reduced to fifteen minutes in the final editing.

This, of course, would not have been possible without a complicity with the people who appear in the film. Without building trust with them. But that complicity, in my case, was very easy. Since my first visit to the camps, I got involved in a very personal way with the problem, and for several years now I have been a foster father of one of the children who appears in the documentary, Abba.

Since then, Abba has been spending every summer with us, in the programme known as 'Vacaciones en paz' (Holidays in peace), through which Sahrawi boys and girls between 10 and 13 years of age come to Spain for two months to live with Spanish families, learn another language, and have medical check-ups.

So the visits to the camps were, in a way, family visits as well, since the team lived with Abba's family, that is, with my own Sahrawi family. In this way, the camera was a natural element in this coexistence, so that I could record everything that happened as naturally as possible. It was a bit like the other way around, like when they come here, they are our foster children, we were their foster children there in the camps."

Watch this short at Shift Film Festival

September 17-19, online.

Tickets & more info.

The children

"Also, with the parade just before the festival, the people and the Sahrawi children express their urge for freedom and they kind of denounce the situation that they're living in.

I would very much like that by the time the children who appear in the film are older, the situation will have been resolved, and they will be able to leave the camps and return to their now occupied land. But as I believe this solution will take time to come, we have to face the situation as it is now.

To continue in the camps as the situation is now, is to have no future. You can't always be dependent on international aid for subsistence, with no other horizon than that, pure subsistence.

That's why some children will study abroad, especially in Spain, in Libya or in Cuba. And many will settle in those countries. But personally what I would like is that, after having the opportunity to train as professionals abroad, they will return to the camps and develop their work there as doctors, engineers, or whatever, and thus help to improve the living conditions of their fellow citizens.

But what I wish is that in the future it won't be necessary make films like this."

(c) All visual material is used with the filmmaker's permission.

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