Javier Bardem says desert refugee camp Film Festival is “a miracle” as programme for 10th edition unveiled

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LONDON: The Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem described the Sahara International Film Festival, which will take place in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Sahara desert next month, as “nothing short of a miracle.” He was speaking from Madrid as the programme of over 30 films from around the world, as well as workshops, concerts and camel races was unveiled in London. The festival, known as FiSahara, will take place from 8-13th October in a desert refugee camp attended by over 200 international actors, directors, human rights and video activists and cinephiles, alongside thousands of Saharawi refugees.

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This year’s programme – designed to inspire and inform – includes a broad range of films from documentary to animation, short films to blockbusters. The Academy Award winning “Life of Pi” and “The Impossible” will be screened alongside activist films from around the world and Sahrawi-themed works, including 18 short films made Saharawi refugees, students of the film school set up in the camps in 2011 as part of the Cinema for the Sahrawi People project. The programme honours Saharawi women, who built the refugee camps and are at the forefront of the struggle for human rights in Western Sahara.

Javier Bardem, who attended FiSahara in 2008, said: “To run an international film festival in a refugee camp deep in the Sahara desert is little short of a miracle. The 10th edition of FiSahara promises to be one of the best, not only entertaining and educating all who participate but also helping to raise awareness about the plight of the Saharawi refugees who have been exiled from their native Western Sahara for almost four decades.”

At its heart, FiSahara is a human rights film festival. Strengthened by its partnership with Amnesty International’s Movies that Matter film festival, this year’s programme includes a series of films on social justice and the Arab Spring. The programme, together with workshops, will explore ways in which film-making can help transform societies acting as a tool for advocacy, protest and reconciliation. Highlights include “Five Broken Cameras” (Palestine/ Israel), “Wadjda” (Saudi Arabia), “My Makzhen & Me” (Morocco), “The Runner” (Western Sahara) and “The Suffering Grasses” (United States-Syria). Sahrawi human rights organisations based in the camps, including those representing family members of the disappeared and injured in conflict, will be present.

Festival guests (and journalists) will fly to Tindouf, Algeria, and travel over 100 miles in convoy into the desert to Dakhla refugee camp, home to around 30,000 refugees. They will stay with refugee families, living in their stucco and tented homes and enjoying the unique Saharawi hospitality. Film screenings will take place after sundown, projected onto multiplex-sized screens.

Ken Loach, who has had three of his films shown at FiSahara said: “The FiSahara film festival is gaining renown, helped by the support of film people like Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz. I would encourage everyone to attend this film festival at least once in their lives.”

Wim Brouwer, Coordinator of Movies that Matter’s A Matter of ACT programme, said: “We are delighted to be involved with FiSahara and to help shed light on the invisible human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Western Sahara. The central aim of Amnesty International’s A Matter of ACT programme is to support initiatives that raise awareness on the work of human rights defenders, as well as stimulate debate and discussion. We hope that our contribution will help inspire and empower Sahrawi refugees and remind them that, despite their physical isolation, they are not alone in their struggle for freedom and justice.”

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