Agaila Abba
Last updated: 31 May, 2014

Forgotten refugees enjoy cinema and popcorn in the middle of the desert

Often referred to as the "Cannes of the Desert", the FiSahara film festival offers Saharawi refugees a much needed break from life in uncertainty.

The Sahara International Film Festival, also known as FiSahara, takes place every year in Dakhal, located 180 kilometers southeast of Tindouf in Algeria. Dakhal is one of the biggest wilayas (provinces) that form part of the Saharawi refugee camps, where half of the entire Saharawi population have been living for the past 40 years, waiting for a solution to take place between the disputed land of Western Sahara and Morocco.

Often referred to as the ‘Cannes of the Desert,’ FiSahara is directed by Maria Carrion from Spain. The festival planning usually takes place in Spain, but all of the participants meet some way or another in the refugee camps. It has been eleven years since the festival started; and during that time attracted some 300 actors from across the globe, along with hundreds of filmmakers, activists, and journalists.

“All of the participants meet some way or another in the refugee camps”

Among these hundreds of international figures that have participated in the festival are Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem, the Spanish actress Melani Olivares, Guy Davidi who is co-director of the Palestinian documentary ‘Five Broken Cameras,’ the independent Egyptian journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, filmmaker Nadir Bouhmouch, the Moroccan journalist Samia Errazouki, and South African singer Jonas Gwangwa.

The aim of the festival is to bring entertainment, culture and hope to a forgotten conflict and population. The festival lasts for five days, with activities such as film screenings open to all, workshops, music concerts, children activities, and even popcorn activities – a luxury for the many refugee adults and children.

Around 30 films were screened in this year’s festival, which took place last month. In honor of Nelson Mandela’s legacy, the movie ‘Invictus’ was shown along with a presentation by Andrew Mlangeni who was imprisoned with Mandela for 26 years.

Next year, in its 12th edition, there is no doubt that the festival will continue to not only bring the power of entertainment and film to the desert, but also culture and hope to the thousands of refugees who continue to wait for an uncertain future.