Friday, 3 December 2010

Seven Years Later, The Reunion

The shoot in Avignon is over. From my desk in London, I remember one thing overall. Salah's dedication, his singular obsession with the Sahrawis, remaining within their orbit, trying to stay as close to their centre as possible. He is constantly connected to the news from the camps and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. He falls asleep listening to Sahrawi radio, people from around the world calling in to share their thoughts on the latest news, events, rumours. This is his universe, and he can't stand to be too far from it.

This film is not a traditional portrait, with archive pictures, histories, and disembodied narratives. This is not a historical reportage. This is a zoetrope. The perception of a full story is achieved only by peeking through thin slits as they spin quickly by. You see blinking movement, only brief glimpses. The images themselves are still but the cylinder, spinning around, gives the impression of motion.

Last night, I watched with Salah a video of him returning to Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara for the first time in 7 years. He hadn't seen his family for seven years. His mother, father, his brothers and sisters, his cousins, aunts and uncles. When he left seven years ago he was just a good athlete. When he returned he was a symbol of everything that gave the people hope. In the video, he is surrounded by cheering friends and family. Outside the tent, visible on the edges of the video, are rows of Moroccan police watching, taking pictures of everyone who attends.

You can see the joy on the faces of the crowds, clamouring to hug Salah and welcome him back. You can hear the excitement in their cheers. Salah, all the while, is overwhelmed. He occasionally spots a familiar face and breaks into a smile, but otherwise his eyes look around, searching for something familiar. He is not expecting this. There is very little familiar about it. There is a mixture of joy - the reunion - and loss. This would, after all, have to end.

On the train back to London, I can see the snow is thick on the ground. This is far from where I last saw Salah, in the Algerian Sahara. On Sunday, I'll fly to Athens to pitch the film for the last time this year.

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