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AMSTERDAM — “Hamada” is an Arabic word meaning “desert,” and for the Sahrawi people who live there, in the middle of the Sahara, it has another meaning: “Emptiness.” One might think, then, that a film with such a title, dealing with stateless migrants, wouldn’t exactly be a laughing matter, but Eloy Domínguez Serén’s feature-length documentary debut is not at all what you might expect. Instead, his film has more in common with the American “slacker” cinema boom of the 1990s, depicting a group of young people coming to terms with a bleak future of unemployment by using humor as a tool and nursing long-held dreams of escape.
Since Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 and expelled the Sahrawi from their original habitat, refugee camps have sprung up round the Algerian border. It is against this dark backdrop that we meet Sidahmed, Zaara and Taher, who usher Serén’s fascinated camera – and us – into a previously hidden world, where the tribespeople live in isolation, separated from their homeland by miles and miles of minefield and thousands of kilometers of fortified military wall.
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How did you get started on this project?
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Eloy Domínguez Serén: I had always known about this area since I was at school. At the time, let’s say, the Spanish educational system still didn’t talk so much about this issue. But I had known about it for many years. When I graduated, I knew there was a very small and modest film school in one of the camps in the Sahara. So I applied as a volunteer teacher, and that was my first trip to the Sahara and to the camps.
Did you always intend...
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