As a filmmaker it was disturbing to find out today via the Swedish press, that the Swedish public broadcaster SVT-UR, who purchased the rights for STOLEN more than a year ago, then cut the film into a TV hour, made their own translations and advertised to broadcast it on March 7th at 9pm, pulled the film off air at the last minute.
When viewers complained about STOLEN being pulled off air, SVT answered that they made the decision based on Fetim’s objections to the film. Elin Anderson the managing editor from SVT-UR made a statement saying, “shortly before the film was to be broadcast, we learned that Fetim, one of the film’s main characters strongly objects to the film and she acted clearly in her determination to stop the broadcast. My assessment that the film’s broadcast is in the public interest, did not outweigh the intrusion into Fetim’s personal privacy.”
SVT-UR were well aware of Fetim’s objections as they are included in the film, she was flown from Algeria to the film’s premiere in Sydney, Australia to say that the film is a lie and slavery does not exist. They had more than a year to make this evaluation, why did they decide to pull out the film at the last minute?
During the course of filming, Fetim and Leil (her teenager daughter) disclosed to us that slavery still affected their lives. The reason Fetim and her mother were separated we learned was a direct result of slavery. In the film Fetim is portrayed in her complexity, as a mother, a teacher and a woman with a ‘white heart’, but also a woman searching for her own identity and her real family. There are more than 10 black people who speak out against slavery in STOLEN, do their voices go unheard? What about Fetim’s mother, who 30 years ago had her child taken away from her? Does she not have a right to tell her story?
SVT-UR didn’t even let us know as the filmmakers or discuss with us their decision to remove the film from their schedule. There is an elephant in the room that is difficult to ignore, political pressure on public broadcasters is something that can’t be permitted in a democracy.
This isn’t the first time the Polisario Liberation Front and its supporters have tried to stop STOLEN showing around the world, the Polisario’s representative in Australia even called for the film to be banned, they’ve been attacking the film for more than two years. They detained us in the Tindouf camps, they’ve intimidated the people who told us their stories, they’ve tried to stop our funding, lobbied politicians in Australia to stop the film, they’ve organized protests, they send people to disrupt screenings, they even took a Norwegian film festival to court. But nothing has been able to stop the film. No-one supports slavery of the kind disclosed in STOLEN. But instead of admitting that the problem exists and explaining what they are doing to eradicate it, the POLISARIO and its supporters have expended extraordinary resources in an effort to destroy the reputation of us as the filmmakers and of the film itself.
The extent to which the POLISARIO has been prepared to go simply serves to demonstrate the international embarrassment that this film has caused; not only to the POLISARIO (which is openly against such slavery but denies its continued existence), to the UN agencies working in the area, to the countries that provide funding to the POLISARIO and the camps, and to the many good people who have visited the camps over the years and yet who have not seen this hidden truth.
Sweden is seen around the world, as a champion for freedom of expression. How can giving a voice to people who call themselves slaves be deemed an intrusion into personal privacy?
STOLEN has show at more than 60 film festivals around the world including the Toronto International Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam, winning 12 awards along the way. The film has also been included in numerous human rights festivals including the Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver where it won the Bronze Audience Award. STOLEN will continue to bring attention to the issue of slavery in the Polisario camps and Western Sahara and it will simply get more difficult for people who run organisations like SVT-UR to get away with being accomplices to the continued practice of slavery.
The upside of this situation is that in declining to screen STOLEN, SVT-UR will no doubt bring far more attention to the film and thus the issue of slavery than if they did broadcast it.
STOLEN will show in New York as part of the NY Africa Film Festival at the Lincoln Center on the 8th & 12th April and also at Stranger Than Fiction at the IFC on the 5th April at 8pm.