Dir: Iara Lee 2015 Cultures of Resistance Films
What hurts more; the pain of suffering or the pain of having your suffering ignored? On the north-eastern tip of the African continent, a group of people are fighting one of the most difficult battles of the modern world and filmmaker Iara Lee captures the effervescence of the struggle perfectly in her documentary film, Life is Waiting: Referendum and Resistance in Western Sahara. For over forty years, the People of Western Sahara or the Sahrawi’s have been waging what seems like a losing battle both at home and in exile for their liberation from colonialism by Morocco and Spain but the whole world seems to have forgotten about them.
The 58-minute documentary does not just paint a vivid landscape of the history and present state of the social and political landscape in Western Sahara, it also sheds a bright light on the tools these marginalised people are employing to resist their oppression and colonisation. With traditional western media and most of the world ignoring the atrocious occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, it is difficult to get people to understand, yet alone support the struggle for liberation. It is one thing to read a Wikipedia page, but a completely different experience to see innocent people separated by a wall (dubbed the wall of shame and second in size only to the Great Wall of China) that rips the territory along its length with land mines littered on both sides.
Iara Lee harnesses the power of film to capture the scope of Sahrawi life, presenting various occurrences with the aim of helping the audience understand the nature of this resistance. The history of the conflict, from Spanish and Moroccan occupation to the formation of the POLISARIO Front , the primary liberation movement resisting this colonization, is well explicated through a concise timeline. The nature of the West Saharan struggle becomes more apparent however when the film delves into the everyday lives of the activists and artists. It documents how they cope, survive and thrive in tents on rooftops in Morocco to studios in the desert and refugee camps. Life for every Sahrawi is waiting for a chance to go home, thrive in a place where they truly belong.
The film focuses on the political nature of the conflict and highlights the exploits of activists such as Sultana Khaya and Aminatou Haidar. It achieves balance by also emphasising the contributions of rappers, filmmakers, calligraphers, fine artists and photographers who express their angst through their works. It is refreshing to note that resilience and the desire for self determination did not just emanate from elders – large majority of the youth are actively involved in the struggle.
Lee employs wide timeframes, picturesque aerial shots, interviews, grainy archival footage and shifting points of view to bring this story to life. Despite its cinematic virtues, the film is not exactly suited for casual watching. The familiar thread of displacement and resistance runs through its spine and induces a deep empathy from anyone who engages with it. The filmmaker’s perspective is calm yet powerful as she does not push the story or Western Sahara onto her audience but rather allows is to slowly unravel from the mouths of those who know it best.
In just under an hour, Life is Waiting will lead you to acquire a great respect for the Spanish, Arabic and Hassaniya speaking people of Western Sahara and also make you wonder why the world has allowed this injustice to go on for so long. The Documentary offers a critical learning opportunity as it exposes us to a different form of Colonialism and oppression in a world where many cannot imagine it. Africa’s past experience with this form of colonialism makes it even more difficult to understand how such an atrocity could go on unchecked. Iara Lee does a terrific job in telling a story that has had no global mouth for far too long. Although Life is Waiting does not present any dimension of the occupation of Western Sahara through the optics of Moroccan or Spanish authorities the state of the UN office when her cameras visited tell you all you need to know. The global power supposed to defend the defenceless does not regard the Sahrawian problem as anything to worry about.
Watching Life is Waiting is worth every second of your time. It raises a number of critical questions that you cannot shake of easily while sharing the narratives of the Sahrawis. It is a fine blend of entertaining and disturbing, Iara Lee and the Cultures of Resistance Films’ agenda to increase public awareness of social injustice is on the right path with this masterpiece. Life is not just waiting, it is fighting for a whiff of fresh air.
Written by: Hakeem Adam
Edited by: Sally Vusi
Photo Credit: Iara Lee/ Cultures of Resistance Films