Dakhla, Algeria: Sahara International Film Festival Brings Light to Refugee Camps With Outdoor Movies

Home to nearly 30,000 refugees, Dakhla, named after the beautiful coastal city in Western Sahara, is a remote camp located 175 kilometers away from the nearest city, Tindouf.

It has no paved roads and is entirely dependent on outside supplies of food and water. In the summer months, temperatures on the hammada desert plain regularly top 120 degrees. With sandstorms, little vegetation and no sources of food or water, it is little wonder that the area is known locally as The Devil's Garden'.

And yet, incredibly, for a week each May, this desolate refugee camp plays host to the Sahara International Film Festival, a gala of outdoor cinema screenings, workshops and concerts attended by an array of internationally acclaimed actors and film-makers. These refugees are of the Saharawi people, who were displaced when Spain retracted its hold on their former colony of Western Sahara, leaving Morocco to take military control.

Morocco seized the lands and cause the Saharawi to move to 4 main Algerian refugee camps. Though the Saharawi have been given amnesty by international courts, the Moroccan government has had a heavy hand in leaving the refugees as they are. The Sahara Film Festival serves several purposes in improving the lives of the residents of the Dakhla refugee camps.

The film festival brings attention to the plight of the refugees to an international arena. International filmmakers and celebrities such as Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar attend the film festival regularly. Celebrities, filmmakers, and other international attendees experience the refugee life first hand as they stay within refugee homes, sharing their roof and food. The film festival has grown in notoriety throughout the years, such that direct flights have been added from Paris, London, and LA to Tindouf.

But perhaps most importantly, the festival brings hope and joy to those who live there year-round. The film festival hosts several events and workshops but the crowning event is the open air cinema, held at the very center courtyard of the refugee camp. The outdoor movie screenings are the primary venue for festival submissions.

Tents surrounding the outdoor cinema are set up as well for workshops, training classes, and indoor screenings. Dakhla residents love to watch movies under the stars, and they hope that the film festival will help bring an end to their displacement. Sahara International Film Festival official website

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