Yasmin Fedda is a filmmaker, Bridging The Gap alumna, PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art, and organiser of the REEL IRAQ festival beginning on 21 March 2013.
On 21 March 2003 a US and UK coalition invaded Iraq, under the premise of freeing it from its then dictator Saddam Hussein. On the same day, I found out I was accepted to do a masters in visual anthropology. That day brought together my dream of making films, and the nightmare of understanding the repercussions of what was to become a drawn-out violent conflict. This pushed me further into wanting to make films, using film as a creative medium from which people from different worlds and lives can learn about each other.
Noé Mendelle is the director of Al Khadra: Poet of the Desert, part of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. Noé has previously blogged about the shoot for this film in the Western Sahara. Today, she is sharing her observations of Al Khadra, the renowned Sahrawi war poetess.
Now in her late seventies, Khadra has been composing verse about freedom since she was a child – and about the conflict with Morocco over the last 36 years. She became the Sahrawi poet and is known amongst her people as “Poet of the Rifle”. I wanted to start the film with the “wall of shame” as a way of introducing the history of Western Sahara and bring Khadra face to face with her enemy.
When we got to within five kilometres of the "wall" we had to abandon the car and leave the police escort behind. We walked a little bit closer with Khadra and the camera. The sight of the wall was very disappointing because it is so far away and looks just like one long sand dune. We could not get any closer because of the many landmines and the Moroccan rifles pointing at us. Khadra just sat on the ground, in profound silence, looking at the Moroccan soldiers who were looking back at us through their binoculars. After a while of sitting there, with just the desert wind and flies as companions, she lifted her fist to the Moroccan army and delivered a short poem that she had just made up:
Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Mazen Maarouf: Hand Made.
“It is the mission of how to reconstruct the dirt, this is poetry, maybe to make a rose out of dust.”
That's how Mazen described his role of a poet the first time I interviewed him, back in May 2010 in Lebanon. Those words rang true as we drove through Beirut city, still scarred by so many wars, and he then showed me around the small blown up flat he and his family had lived in as a Palestinian refugees.
However by the time we came to film Mazen in December 2011 for the Poets of Protest Artscape series, things looked very different for him. It was no longer Beirut we were looking at – it was Paris and Reykjavik. Mazen’s journalistic work in Beirut had led to his life being put in grave danger, and he left to Iceland where he was invited to become a guest writer for ICORN as Reykjavik had become a new 'City of Refuge'...
I was really keen that we have an Iraqi poet in the Poets in Protest series. When I was reading Manal al Sheikh’s fiery work, I was immediately captivated, as she seemed to truly encapsulate the essence of a poet and activist combined.
As Manal herself says, “when you are a person from a country like Iraq you automatically have some anger inside you – and this anger, if you are a poet or a writer, you can transfer it as an explosion in your text.”
Yasmin Fedda is the director of Hala Mohammad: Waiting for Spring, a documentary as part of the POETS IN PROTEST series, made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English.
I have been visiting Syria all of my life, and when the uprising began I felt hopeful that much-needed change would come to the country. However, as time goes on, and more people are killed, it becomes a more and more painful struggle. At the same time, it has been inspiring to see and read about the artistic work and courage of protesters in Syria.
As a person who is very much involved in the championing of African film for its brilliance and artistic merit, but is also aware of its value as a powerful medium towards global understanding, the Poets of Protest series both inspires me and fills me with hope.
From Dec 2010, like many other people across the world, I followed the unravelling of events in the Arab World (North Africa and the Middle East) through a 'mediatised' Western eye.
Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Yehia Jaber: Laughter is My Exit.
There is something very enticing about filming poets. Here are these characters, reflective and questioning by nature, living through a truly historic time of change in the Middle East.
The idea for the documentary series Poets of Protest came after I had been commissioned by Reel Festivals to make three short films during their poetry festival in Beirut in 2011. I was curious to see the changes in the Middle East through their eyes and their poetry. There is also an added creative challenge: How do you bring their poems to life on screen? Poems are an art form in their own right, and film is a whole new artistic language. I wanted to explore where these two art forms could meet and create something new together. And I was keen to have an equal number of female and male poets, three men and three women. I proposed the idea to Al Jazeera English during the Edinburgh Pitch hosted by the Scottish Documentary Institute, and they liked the idea!
Yehia Jaber is a well loved and very funny Lebanese poet. Back in June 2011 when I first met him, it was his laughter that immediately drew me in: it is warm, infectious, and can’t help but gather you up in its path. With his shock of white hair and a cigarette constantly perched precariously on his lip, he is everything you imagine a poet to be, questioning society and politics around him, and spot on with his sharp, funny observations of life. I immediately warm to his poems, which are both incredibly funny and deeply emotional. I knew in my gut we had to make a film together.
I want to start the film with the 'wall of shame' as it is known from a beautiful song, as a way to introduce the history of Western Sahara. In order to get there, we had to get permission of the Polisario Protocol Bureau and get a police car escort. I asked Khadra if she would consider coming with us. She immediately accepted and offered that some of her family members join us. That meant two daughters and her son and his wife and a few kids!
They asked me to go and buy camel meat so we could have a picnic in the desert. The two Land Rovers were loaded with pots and pans and meat. It took a 2-hour drive across sand and stone to get there. The police car was driving sometimes at the front, sometimes at the back, trying to foresee danger. It felt like we were in a car chase movie! Meanwhile in our Land Rover, music was blasting out of the speakers and the women were waving their arms in the air and singing along. They have many revolutionary songs with wonderful rhythms. It was impossible to film or take photos, as the car was shaking so much. But I want you to imagine those beautiful, rather large women, with every inch of skin covered but their eyes. And some of them had large black sunglasses. In total disguise, yet having the time of their lives!
Woke up with the anticipation of visiting Algiers. It is such a beautiful city, built on hills and looking at the sea. People compare it to Marseilles, but actually it is more beautiful. White buildings with beautiful blue iron balcomies. Large pleasant avenues with trees and gardens, and the constant view of the sea. Having a rest from walking through the casbah, we saw that the cinematheque was playing one of my favourite films, Touki Bouki, so we went in. There were four of us! The sound kept breaking down, but it was still pleasurable to see the film on a big screen in Africa.
Time to get to airport, only to discover that we had two seats but bad luck: the pilots were on strike, so we may or may not have a plane... So we waited and waited, and two hours later we were rushed through customs (yes, it seems they can do it) and onto a plane to Tindouf. Our poor fixer Hamdi had been waiting for us there for the last 30 hours.
The Scottish Documentary Institute has been commissioned by Aljazeera to make a six-part series on Poets in Protest. One of them is on the Sahrawi poetess Khadra who happens to be an old lady living in exile in one of the Polisario Camps in the middle of Sahara.
For those of you who do not know about the Sahrawi cause, these citizens of Western Sahara not only got colonised by the Spanish many moons ago. Once they managed to become independent, the Morrocans moved on their territory, pushed them out, and build a 3,000km wall around it. They also planted over 8 million land mines to make sure that the Sahrawi will not cross back into their land. Algeria gave the Sahrawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front, refuge on its territory and set up several camps for people to live – and so they have for the last 35 years. The war has moved into diplomacy rather than military and therefore they now live peacefully in those camps but In a state of complete dependence on international aid.
With Roxana Vilk, the producer of the series, we decided that Al Khadra will be the perfect example of grassroot poetry. She uses words instead of bullets in order to express her anger at Morocco's invasion.