'ROBBED OF TRUTH'

Feature Documentary

Robbed of Truth

The Western Sahara Conflict and the Ethics of Documentary Filmmaking

Dir. Carlos González

This is the true story of Fetim Salam, a Saharawi refugee falsely portrayed as a slave in the Australian documentary 'Stolen'. The day the film premieres at the Sydney Film Festival on June 11, 2009, Fetim and her husband are flown to Australia by the Polisario Front, the independence movement that runs the Western Sahara refugee camps in Algeria, to confront the filmmakers and clear her name.  This dramatic act, with Fetim declaring: 'I am not a slave!' makes front page news in Australia triggering a controversy (continuing to this day). 

 

The filmmakers, Violeta Ayala and Daniel Fallshaw, defend their story on national television as the press becomes increasingly doubtful.  Attention increases as some press, filmmakers, politicians and aid workers begin to express outrage at the allegations. The basic claim of slavery in a poverty stricken refugee camp does not make sense. So called 'recreations,' incorrect subtitles and translations on key points, denials by interviewees and such do not help the filmmakers cause.

In 1975, 160,000 refugees fled for their lives to Algeria as Morocco invaded the Western Sahara, they have been living there to this day.  The film 'Stolen', claims that there are 20,000 slaves in the refugee camps, this would make one out of every eight refugees a slave.  How could this have gone unnoticed when 6,000 aid workers including from the U.N, visit the camps every year?

Filmmaker, Carlos González, alerted by alarmed Saharawi friends, travels to the refugee camps in search of the truth.  He interviews the alleged slaves, as well as aid workers and regular Saharawi citizens.  He flies to London and Paris to interview anthropologists familiar with the area.  He interviews Australian journalist Bob Ellis and documentarian Philippe Mora, after both have see the film and met the filmmakers at the Sydney Film Festival.  He interviews Fetim's sister and mother in the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara.

'Robbed of Truth' uncovers a web of lies, misinformation, and Moroccan operatives apparently reshaping the truth.  In the end, it is clear that slavery does not exist in the Saharawi refugee camps, what is not clear is the motivation behind the film 'Stolen'.  By an intense investigation of 'Stolen', 'Robbed of Truth' clearly becomes a timely look at the ethics in documentary filmmaking, demonstrating that the power of film as propaganda is undiminished in 2011.

'CHILDREN OF THE CLOUDS'

Documentary Short

'Children of the Clouds'

A Filmmaker's Journey in Western Sahara

Dir. Carlos González

In May 2005, after 30 years of Moroccan occupation, Saharawi students initiated a series of peaceful demonstrations demanding their right to the United Nations-mandated referendum on Western Saharan independence.  The Moroccan authorities responded with a brutal campaign of repression, detaining and torturing human rights activists as well as Saharawi students and children as young as eight years old.  

One year after the Intifada began, Carlos González travels to El Aaiún, Western Sahara, to make a documentary about the wave of oppression unleashed on Saharawi students by Moroccan security forces.  Accompanied on his journey by human rights activist Hmad Hammad, Carlos interviews students and activists about their experiences living under occupation - but not without interference.  Put under surveillance by the Moroccan secret police shortly after his arrival in El Aaiún, he is eventually detained, interrogated, and expelled from the Western Sahara.  On June 6th, the Assabah newspaper of Casablanca publishes a fabricated confession in which he admits to being and agent of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

© Carlos González, SVC 2019