Dajla: cinema and oblivion

Dajla: cine y olvido

Life is going on in Dakhla, one of the Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria, forgotten for 45 years. The celebration of a film festival, the Fisahara, breaks the monotony. The event ends, life (and oblivion) continues.

Our Take – Small Axe Short Film Reviews by Cole Diment.

Arturo Herrero Dueñas’ “Dajla: Cinema and Oblivion” introduces us to Sahrawi refugees in Dakhla, Southern Algeria. As part of the Sahrawi Democratic People’s Republic (or Western Sahara), a partially recognised state whose land is claimed by Morocco, these people have been displaced to the Algerian desert. In this in-between, liminal status Dajla offers a glimpse into the daily routines of these people’s lives. A moment of change occurs when a Sahrawi Democratic People’s Republic film festival breaks the camp’s monotony. However, the film festival soon ends leaving those who inhabit the camp to resume the everyday. 

The film opens on a beautiful sunrise, introducing us to the daily life of the inhabitants. In languid, drawn out shots we see them learn, cook, play, work and labour in the harsh sun of the Sahara. The larger, geo-political scene is hinted at in the film’s first half; beans are delivered from the government of Brazil funded by Spain. These people seem to live at the crossroads of autarky and dependency, an absurd concoction. Harshness and isolation then creep back in with the advent of a sandstorm. People are cut off from the world, forced to shelter in this semi-hospitable environ. 

The film continues in this languid way for a while until a film festival comes to the camp. With all the pomp and frill of governmental nationalism the festival changes the look of the town; for the first time we see electricity, loudspeakers, sound systems. Flags of the Sahrawi Republic line the streets, processions bring together the people of the camp. Film positions itself within the camp as a tool for community: collectively, Sahrawians look on as they watch films about their nation, community and identity. Their identity is seen to themselves, validated and made proud. Children and adults smile together as they watch films. 

The film festival then packs up. Perhaps the most contemplative image is that of the man taking down the flags. We question: why, if these flags represent nationhood and community, are they taken down? It seems that to celebrate ones identity only to abruptly stop the next day is a mismatch. The resumption of daily life is not without its political aspect however. These people, displaced in their refugee status, living at the margins, must resume their daily life – as Herrero suggests in Oblivion – in order that they preserve their identity through perseverance. Pomp and frill is all well. So too overt displays of pride in one’s identity. But this is not the hard work. The hard work is the challenge of the everday: the rumbling, half broken washing machine, walking through sandstorms, keeping education running and alive. The everyday is thus imbued with the utmost political importance. Oblivion, though a struggle, seems to be the foundation upon which a people may grow. 

 | 2022
Arturo Dueñas Herrero
15:00 mins
Arabic, English, Spanish
Arturo Dueñas Herrero