Review. In a new documentary, an Italian journalist hears the voices and stories of a people who have been fighting for almost half a century for the independence of their land.

The ‘wound’ of the Sahara, a 2,700 km wall of shame

“The wall is a wound that cuts through the desert for 2,720 km. It separates families, severs connections, divides a people into two. We wanted to use the image of a scar, an actual physical one, to represent what this barrier means as an idea for the Sahrawi. They are a people that has been fighting for almost half a century for the independence of its land, cut in two by the pencils of European colonizers in the nineteenth century and today scarred by a military wall, which Europe continues to finance, more or less directly, by entering into fishery and anti-immigration agreements with Morocco. The wall is a cold military installation, but its presence in the daily life of the Sahrawi is a living and real one.”

This is how journalist and filmmaker Gilberto Mastromatteo describes Il Muro: La Ferita Del Sahara (The Wall: The Wound of the Sahara), a documentary which he wrote and directed together with Fiorella Bendoni. In the story it tells, the central role of what the Sahrawis themselves call the “wall of shame” is particularly fitting, as it is able to summarize in the best possible way the long and complex sequence of historical, social and political events that lies behind the dramatic situation today.

Moving between the refugee camps in Algerian territory and the region of the liberated territories in the areas of Bir Lahlou, Tifariti and Guelta Zemmour, the two filmmakers have gathered testimonies of women and men who tell about how the ferocious architectural division created by the Moroccans during the 1980s has changed the lives of thousands of people forever. This unhealable wound is not only geographical, but social, and tragically “anatomical,” due to the millions of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines protecting the wall, which have been killing people and animals for decades.

The events recounted by the interviewees become stories with an enormous communicative power, which tell of lives that from a certain moment on are no longer the same—both when this is clearly visible on the body of someone who lost a leg to a landmine explosion, and when the scar is emotional, as can be seen from the stories of the young deminer Fatimetu Bashir Mehdi. It’s the same when we see how, in order to prevent such tragic events, children are taught in schools to recognize a mine so they can avoid dangerous situations.

By putting side by side the personal worlds of workers, ex-combatants, farmers and children, Bendoni and Mastromatteo manage to reach the right narrative balance, giving an overall view that corresponds to the harsh reality they were faced with during the shooting of the documentary, which took place between 2018 and 2019. The film, sponsored by Amnesty and the Parliamentary Intergroup of Friendship with the Sahrawi People, was shown in October at the seventh Human Rights Film Festival in Lugano.

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