U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants to restart a Western Sahara dialogue and is "profoundly saddened" by the way the world is neglecting the Sahraouis. In this short clip from Life is Waiting: Referendum and Resistance we learn about the history of Western Sahara and the UN's unfulfilled role there.
Interview with Director/Producer Iara Lee
Why did you decide to make this film?
I fell in love with Sahrawi culture when I first met Sahrawis during Fisahara Film Fest, a beautiful desert fest I attended with our film on Syrian refugees. The Sahrawi generosity was so moving to me. They had so little in the refugee camps in Algeria but they were always so sharing and caring.
I felt the urge to extend support and became motivated to raise awareness about Sahrawis' quest to self-determination and share with the world their resilient struggle through nonviolent resistance and to show how art can be a tool for advancing diplomacy and confronting injustice.
Why is the film called Life is Waiting?
It has been 40 years of Moroccan occupation, 40 years waiting to live! In 1991, the UN promised a referendum, but, despite abiding by international law, the people of Western Sahara have yet to see it happen.
You are constantly screening the film worldwide. Could you describe your distribution strategy?
We have a dedicated outreach team in our New York City office that sends the film to many events, universities, film festivals worldwide. We also rely on an international network of Sahrawi solidarity groups and human rights activists who are passionate about the issues addressed in the film. We use social media to publicize and do nonstop outreach to reach all corners of the world. As the film continues to screen, word continues to spread!
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
We have been honored to receive feedback and comments that have been overwhelmingly positive. Many people around the world also report that they were not previously aware of Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. As a filmmaker, it has been very gratifying to hear that we are playing a role in educating new people about the Sahrawi plight.
But we also get a lot of hate mail from pro-occupation Moroccans and the Moroccan government unrelentingly seeks to have our film banned, censored, canceled. They have succeeded canceling screenings in places such as Belgium, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and other monarchical countries... We have had to persevere in spite of such efforts of sabotage, and luckily, for each screening banned we get ten more invitations, as the noise the Moroccan government makes against our film incites more curiosity worldwide. So it is backfiring for them big time :))).
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The enthusiasm of human rights advocates for the film has been very heartening, and deja vu Moroccan government's attempts to shut down open discussion and debate to be expected. Their hostility toward artistic expression and open debate has been appalling but predictable, and I think it indicates our film is succeeding in its mission of promoting basic freedom of expression and human rights.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
By making the film more visible, we hope to continue to raise awareness of the Saharawi's nonviolent struggle for self-determination and increase support for their creative resistance to oppression and occupation.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
We are always looking for more venues and supporters to screen the film in their city or town. We would love to have more journalists write about the film and the conflict in Western Sahara. We have a distributor for the educational market, but would be interested in getting a distributor for wider purposes.
And most importantly, we want to engage more young people worldwide to care and proactively act in support of all people under occupation: Palestine, Kashmir, West Papua, Western Sahara and beyond. And create an international solidarity movement where we all unite against despicable colonialism, occupation, oppression.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
We want people to get a sense of what the Saharawis have been enduring all these decades. We want people to be able to hear from the Saharawis themselves and to be exposed to voices that are too often silenced.
Ultimately, we would like this film to create renewed interest in the struggle of Saharawi people and prompt action to allow a free and fair referendum concerning independence.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Did you know that Western Sahara remains Africa’s last colony?