stolenComing to PBS’s AfroPoP on WORLD tomorrow, Tuesday, February 26: STOLEN

Violeta Ayala and Daniel Fallshaw’s controversial exposé of modern day slavery had its official world premiere at the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival after an earlier work-in-progress screening at Sydney. It has screened extensively since, with berths at Toronto, IDFA, DocPoint, Pan African, Documentary Edge, One World, It’s All True, DocAviv, and Seattle, among others.

Originally setting out to document a UN-sponsored program that reunited separated family members in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony in North Africa, filmmakers Ayala and Fallshaw instead become privy to an open secret: a form of slavery is still practiced among the Sahwari people, with black people kept in subservience by white Arabs. Learning that their subject, Fetim, was handed over to the much older Deido by Fetim’s mother, the filmmaking duo set out to learn more. Becoming part of their story, they find their safety threatened and are forced to flee the country, but before they do, they bury their footage to prevent it from falling into the hands of the hostile authorities. As they engineer a plan to smuggle the tapes out of the country and expose the barbaric practice, they face unexpected twists and turns, including witnesses recanting. In many ways a meta documentary, the filmmakers are ultimately too present in their own film, heavily narrating in addition to being the protagonists of the second half, which attempts to play out like a spy thriller of sorts. That said, what they’re aiming to expose, and the complex ethical issues involved, both from filmmaking and human standpoints, are legitimately shocking and deserve widespread attention. With Ayala and Fallshaw’s credibility questioned by the governing body of the Sahrawi, the Polisario – representatives from which have protested the film at screenings – AfroPoP is airing the doc with an accompanying special that explores the allegations made in more detail.

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