Saturday, December 22, 2012

SCN closes as Álvaro Longoria's SONS OF THE CLOUDS unveils Moroccan human rights' abuse against the Western Sahara

The original Spanish-language title of the new documentary, SONS OF THE CLOUDS, carries a subtitle: Hijos de las nubes, la última colonia, which translates as The Ultimate Colony. Once again, Colonialism, which many of us we tend to think of as dead, would be better remembered as "the gift that keeps on giving." If you know as little as did TrustMovies about the history of this small, not-quite-country bordered by Morocco, Algeria, Maruitania and the Atlantic Ocean, the movie will be an eye-opener.

As explained by the film's writer/director Álvaro Longoria (below) and narrator/co-producer Javier Bardem, the history of the place and people is pretty fascinating, involving as it does colonization by Spain, which eventually let the country go, after which incursions were made into it by Morocco, which were promptly rebuffed by the Sahrawi people (and their rag-tag army, the Polisario), but to little avail. Morocco, more powerful, continues to control the area.

One of the most interesting points the movie makes involves which countries support independence for Western Sahara -- which is, according to the movie-makers, a surprisingly Democratic society in which women's rights, among other important things, are fully recognized -- and which countries come down on the side of the oppressor, Morocco. Most of the Arab states, of course, favor Moroccan control (due as much as anything, to their Islamic faith, I believe; none of them want to see real democracy in the area). To their ever-lasting shame (as though they could ever feel anything like shame) so do France and the United States of America. Even though most of the United Nations favors the Sahrawis, these two countries, permanent members of the UN Security Council, have veto power, which they are more than willing to use.

Morocco appears to be taking its cues from the behavior of Israel, moving thousands of "settlers" into lands which originally belonged to the Sahrawi's. Unfortunately, because the Sahrawis were originally a nomadic people, big cities and permanent abodes were not something that developed in the Western Sahara. (The life-style of Nomads and Gypsies would seem to be something that the modern world will not or cannot countenance.)

Add to this the many human rights abuses -- rape, torture, imprisonment -- that run rampant but are not much heard about outside northwestern Africa, and it is these things, along with the thousands of displaced Sahrawis who lives in camps in terrible conditions, that apparently grabbed Señor Bardem with such force when he first encountered them and learned of their plight while he was making a PR appearance at a film festival there.

Perhaps because the movie-makers did not get particularly up-close and personal with the Sahrawis themselves, much of the film is spent tagging along with Bardem and crew as they try to reach the Moroccans and question them about all this (as you might expect, this does not happen); going to the UN and making a short, impassioned speech; and speaking at length with France via one old fellow who makes pretty shameful, non-seeing excuses.

Longoria, Bardem (above) and their crew have done a fine job of bringing all this to our attention, and while the film is relatively one-sided, as many of these documentaries about injustice against particular persons and/or entire peoples often are -- especially in situations in which most of the power lies in the hands of the abusers -- the information marshaled here is worth hearing and seeing and will introduce you to yet another terrible situation in our world that needs addressing. (My own estimation of Morocco just took a huge dive, and any interest I might have had in visiting that country is gone.) The Sahrawis, at this point, have put up with 27 years of this injustice; it's time for change.

In addition to its showing as part of Spanish Cinema Now, Sons of the Clouds -- the title comes from the fact that, for centuries, this nomadic people followed the clouds that held the desert's most precious possession: water -- is available now on DVD and from all major Digital Outlets via GoDigital -- including iTunes and Vimeo -- for download sale and/or rental.

All photos are from the film itself, 
except that of Señor Longoria, 
which is by Mark Renders, courtesy of Getty Images Europe.

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