FiSahara Film Festival: Making a Difference Through Film

 Who are the Sahrawi?

The Sahrawi are a nomadic people who traditionally roamed the African desert.  What is fascinating is that they are a matriarchal society, and women and men are treated as equals.  According to people interviewed in Sons of Clouds (2008) domestic violence is unheard of in this society, and if a husband and wife are no longer getting on, they separate amicably, within the bounds of their law (1).  There is also a Wikipedia article, which refers to the “privileged position of women” within this society, although currently the neutrality of the article has been questioned. (2)

The number of Sahrawi refugees living in camps along the Western Sahara is currently disputed. (3)  In 2010 Sahrawi families camped out in tent cities in the form of a peaceful protest to demand social and human rights improvements.  There are mixed reports on what exactly happened in these camps, but at the very least there seem to have been clashes between security forces and the protesters.

Read more in The Guardian.

About the festival

Since 2003 the FiSahara Film Festival has brought together film makers and visitors from around the world.  It is unique in the fact that it is the only film festival to be held in a refugee camp.

Created as a collaborative effort between the Sahrawi Refugee Community, The Spanish Solidarity Movement and Spanish film makers, it is a human rights festival that includes:

  • Film screenings
  • Roundtables and thematic haimas
  • Film and media workshops
  • Children’s programming
  • Concerts featuring  international  and Sahrawi musicians
  • A Sahrawi traditional cultural fair and parade known as LeFrig
  • Camel races
  • An international football match


The aim of the festival is to draw attention to the plight of the Sahrawi people, half of whom have been exiled to a refugee camp in the Sahara desert, separated from their families by a huge wall, protected by soldiers and mines, whilst the rest live under Moroccan occupation.

A Forgotten People

The Sahrawi people have been living in refugee camps for thirty-seven years.  What they have created out of nothing is truly inspirational, but the world has failed them.

In the 1870s, Africa was divided amongst European colonies (5) and the Western Sahara was given to Spanish rule (6).  According to a documentary by Candescent Films, the Sahrawi lived reasonably harmoniously with the Spanish, even intermarrying.

As early as the 1950s Europe had begun to decolonise Africa (7). By the 1970s Spain, met by resistance against their rule by the newly formed Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro) (9) was getting ready to leave Western Sahara.  It was at this time that Morocco staked it’s claim in the territory, and in 1975 the area was annexed: (10)

The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Sahara (then Rio de Oro), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco (which annexed the entire territory in 1979), rendering the declared independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic ineffective to the present day


In 1975, Spain signed a treaty with Morocco and Mauritania, which stated:

On 14 November 1975, the delegations lawfully representing the Governments of Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, meeting in Madrid, stated that they had agreed in order on the following principles: 1. Spain confirms its resolve, repeatedly stated in the United Nations, to decolonize the Territory of Western Sahara by terminating the responsibilities and powers which it possesses over that Territory as administering Power. 2. In conformity with the aforementioned determination and in accordance with the negotiations advocated by the United Nations with the affected parties, Spain will proceed forthwith to institute a temporary administration in the Territory, in which Morocco and Mauritania will participate in collaboration with the Yema’a and to which will be transferred all the responsibilities and powers referred to in the preceding paragraph. It is accordingly agreed that two Deputy Governors nominated by Morocco and Mauritania shall be appointed to assist the Governor-General of the Territory in the performance of his functions. The termination of the Spanish presence in the Territory will be completed by 28 February 1976 at the latest. 3. The views of the Saharan population, expressed through the Yema’a, will be respected. 4. The three countries will inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the terms set down in this instrument as a result of the negotiations entered into in accordance with Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations. 5. The three countries involved declare that they arrived at the foregoing conclu sions in the highest spirit of understanding and brotherhood, with due respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and as the best possible contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security. 6. This instrument shall enter into force on the date of publication in the Boletin Oficial (Official Gazette) of the State of the “Sahara Decolonization Act” authorizing the Spanish Government to assume the commitments conditionally set forth in this instrument.

According to 

This arrangement violated standard practice on decolonization and prevented any chance for a self-determination referendum, which the United Nations had been calling for since 1966 and to which Spain finally had agreed in 1974.

Attempts to subdue the Sahrawi people by Moroccan and Mauritanian authorities were met with fierce resistance by POLISARIO guerrillas.  During the height of the cold war, this battle gained political interest, and, according to Sons of Clouds Algeria armed the POLISARIO, France and the US armed Morocco, as their ally against the USSR. (11)

In 1979 Mauritania withdrew, and signed peace accords with the POLISARIO. (14)

In 1980, with no sign of a resolution, the Moroccans built a wall, separating the occupied area and the Western Sahara. (12) Those who remained in Moroccan occupied territory were subject to Moroccan rule, whilst those on the other side of the wall were refugees, living in camps.

What is being done?

A fascinating documentary by  Candescent Films called Sons of Clouds (2008) documents a history of these events, and alleged human rights abuses against the Sahrawi people, including disappearings,  torture, police brutality amongst others.  In 1991 the UN called for a referendum for the Sahrawi people, to be able to choose self determination.  So far this referendum has still not taken place. (15)

During the documentary the film makers raised a petition calling upon the Spanish government to act on behalf of the Sahrawi people, and presented it to the president at the end of the film. (16)

To date there are still an estimated 200,000 refugees still in camps, and the wall is still in place. (17)

Saving the World, sans Sandwiches

Actress and comedian, Mhairi Morrison (Best Actress – Webseries Magazine), best known for portraying the ever fabulous Tallulah in hilarious webseries  Feathers and Toast is a passionate advocate of the Sahrawi cause.  She will be travelling out to the festival to experience for herself what it is to live amongst the refugees.  Speaking exclusively to Newsnibbles she said:

I was inspired to go to the festival because I have always grappled with understanding whether or not my art, what I’ve chosen to do with my life, has value to society as a whole.  As much value as per say a doctor.  To have the opportunity of visiting a festival where I can see first hand the value of art and the impact it can have on people, is incredible. When I was 14 a family of refugees came to live with us from Bosnia, during the war. Having a family arrive with 2 suitcases and a few words of English in a completely foreign land was extremely humbling.

The festival is a way of providing hope to these abandoned people, and the international attention it garners will hopefully serve as a reminder to them that they are not alone.  However, the only way people can get involved and help, is if they know about it.  We are fortunate enough to live in a world of social media, where it is easy for you to do your part.  Please share.

Useful Links:


Cos Sometimes I read stuff

As most serious nibblers will be aware, we have recently acquired a new contributor; fantasy author and reviewer of things, Samuel Z Jones.  As Badger co-hosted his online book launch party, he sent her a copy of his most recent book The Baron Moruna to read, presumably so she’d know what she was talking about.  Here’s what happened next.

So, it’s been a while since I have written a samfeature, in fact I haven’t put my feature writing hat on since Rockonnection ceased to be, and that was several years ago now, so it was time to kidnap another minor celeb, chain them to a radiator in the basement and seriously get to the bottom of their creative intentions.  As Sam now works with us here in the Newsnibbles office, he was surprisingly easy to abduct, and just followed the trail of vegetarian antipasti down to the basement, where I was able to tether him to a chair.

Whilst I was waiting for him to come to, I was able to glance at the copy of The Baron Moruna, which I always carry in my back pocket, because long books make me look clever.  The first thing that struck me was ‘he doesn’t write at all like he talks,’ and I was impressed.  It was like reading an epic fantasy novel, it could have been from any era, with classical tones and stylings that set the scene right off and tell you this is fantasy.

Some years ago, when we first met on a writing website that is no more (I was pretending to be human then, I have since realised that badgers sell more books) I read his first novel in the Akurite Empire series, and was impressed by the fact that a male writer was confidently able to write strong female characters, without stereotyping.  This is set in the same world, but years later, and the characters in the first book I read are now characters from history, which reading it makes me feel like I am part of  the world too, I know their history, I understand more what’s going on, he has created an entire world with history and future and real people.  It was at this point that he started to come to, so I decided to ask him: How do you go about building a world?

That’s a big question. And the subject of my dissertation. Short version: Begin by creating the space for the world to exist in. Sense it, learn to touch and hear it, hanging in that liminal non-space between your inner self and the external world. Find or imagine or create a crack in reality, and peer through. On the other side will be someone, somewhere. Speak to them. Widen the gap between worlds and make a space where you can sit and talk. Make it a place in that world, furnish it, get comfortable. This first person you’ve met here will be your chief narrator, your guide in this otherworld; talk to them, let them tell you stories, and introduce you to their friends. Ask them about their world, and write down what they tell you. When you know a few people there and have heard of a few places, start walking, and write about everything you find and everyone you meet there.

Well that seemed fair enough to me, but I wanted more specifics, so I jabbed him with a pointy stick and persisted; but how did the world of Akurite Empire come about?

Pretty much exactly like that. I was making little bubble-worlds, mini-excursions across the ether, until I ran into a character there who offered to be my guide and tell me his adventures. Eventually, he introduced me to one friend and then another, and they told me stories too. I still make a point of visiting that first friend in that otherworld, but he’s retired now and doesn’t mind others taking centre stage.

In this new work there is a character called Ailen (not our fashion correspondent, that’s Aline) who speaks in such a good Scottish accent you can hear it even when reading in your head, so I had to interrupt Sam’s escape attempt to ask: Where did you learn to speak Scottish?

From Robbie Burns. I’m literate in Scottish; I read it, barely speak a word of it. When writing a character’s words, I listen to their accent, their intonation.

Hmm, interesting.  With such a vast collection of titles to his name he must have tens of fans, so I found myself wondering who his stories were aimed at.  Well, there’s no point in wondering when he’s right there, tied to a chair in front of me, and I’m not shy, so I asked: Who is your main audience?

I write for the grown-up Fantasy fan, the people who grew up on it and never grew out of it, who love the old stories and want new ones from the same wellspring of human abstraction. I write about reality through the lens, so I write for people who want to not merely to escape this reality, but to bring something real back from that otherworld.

It was at that point he seemed to be on the verge of escape, and I knew the only way to keep him there would be to distract him with my brilliant intellect, so I struck another question, like the brain ninja that I am: If you could take 3 books, with their authors to a desert island, who and why?

i: Me, and only one book, the one I’d be working on. When I have finished the epic Fantasy, I look forward to writing about a desert island. Nice, calm, peaceful.

ii: Stephanie Myer. Because she must be stopped.

iii: Hugh Cook. Because he’s dead, and he shouldn’t be, and I only found out the man had a website a few months after he died, and now even his website’s gone, and I feel oddly cheated of speaking to an obscure author who very strong influenced my work.

It was no good, whilst he was dazzling me with he quick witted responses to what I thought were really tough questions he had broken free his bonds, and I found my mind drawn back to the amazing fight scenes that are scattered throughout The Baron Moruna so asked, with some trepidation: Do you know Kung Fu?

“Yes. I do know Kung Fu,” he responded, raising an ominous eyebrow.

Whilst this amazing story has a kickass army of women, ghosts, zombies and adventures on an airship, it leaves one question completely unanswered, a question that it is really essential to know any member of the Newsnibbles’ teams’ position on as a matter of course: Pet Couture, would you?

No. I think it’s cruel. No animal wants bows and bunches in its fur, dayglo anything is not a colour any dog wants to be. Cats do not like being shaved (remember that, kids).

Oh dear, divorce may be on the cards… Well at that point he was free and I was distracted by something shiny, so we left it at that, and will probably never speak of it again, but you can find out more about his worlds by going here.

If you think you would like to be featured in a feature, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.


Battlelore: Middle-Earth Meets Metal

Battlelore is a Fantasy Metal band established in Finland. They base their distinctive sound on the literary works of J R R Tolkien, perhaps most famous for his Lord of the Rings trilogy of books.

Despite the fact that Guitar Hero has not yet released a Fantasy Metal edition, Rockonnection has once more been able to find a use for me. This is perhaps because I am a massive fantasy literature fan, and own the extended edition of Lord of the Rings.

Founded in ’99, Battlelore blend a mixture of Celtic folk music with a heavy metal undertone which makes their sound quite distinctive. Use of instruments such as the flute, in combination with guitar, bass and drums which are perhaps more traditionally associated with Rock and Metal lends an almost classical sound to parts of the music, whilst a steady bass rhythm never lets us forget that metal is at the soul of the music. I caught up with Jyri Vahvanen (guitar/lyrics), founder member of the band to find out more about his Tolkien fascination, and vision for the group.

“I was twelve years old when I found Tolkien’s books through a role-playing game.” He tells me. “His tales of Middle-Earth were the first fantasy theme I ever read and I totally fell in his books. Since then he has been the number one fantasy author for me.”

The work of Tolkien is laced with heroic deeds and epic battles just crying out to be set to music. The picturesque Finnish countryside seems so perfect for staging the battles of Middle-Earth that one could question what motivated Peter Jackson to use New Zealand. Battlore’s videos incorporate fantasy costumes with the idyllic settings that one imagines when reading his work. But is metal really the best way to represent the adventures of all these wonderful fantasy creatures?

“In our case it is.” Jyri informs me. “I used to play metal before I founded Battlelore, so it was very natural development for me to unite metal music and Tolkien’s writings. Maybe classical or folk music might catch Tolkien’s Middle-Earth’s ‘medieval-like’ atmosphere a bit easier, but I like to do it with the elements of metal music.”

Even with my Hobbit obsession, I have never, until this point considered what it would be like to hear an Orc sing. Had I taken hours to contemplate what the phenomenon of a singing Orc would sound like, I would doubtless have come to the conclusion that it would sound a lot like the guttural sound of Tomi Mykkänen’s vocals. His contrast with the more Celtic, feminine sounding vocals of Kaisa Jouhki is vaguely reminiscent of Enya meets Napalm Death. To me this contrast represents the conflicting forces of Orcs and Elves, which are a constant in the novels of Tolkien. At the risk of sounding like I totally missed the point I mentioned this view to Jyri.

“Yes, you are correct about that.” Phew, not just Guitar Hero then. “Back in the days it was even more intentional, but nowadays we have mixed their roles a little bit. Of course it is much easier to reach the certain kind of atmosphere for the song if you have a wider scale of vocals to use. For example the fey female vocals for the speech of a furious demon might mislead a listener too much and it is nice to write lyrics where there is kind of a conversation between the characters of the song.”

Battlelore’s latest album, Doombound is their first “concept album”. Although their previous work is themed to the work of Tolkien, this is the first album dedicated to a single novel. The novel chosen was the posthumously published The Children of Hurin. This is not a feel good romp of mythical creatures. For the hardcore fans of Tolkien this is an interesting read, as it is set a long way prior to The Lord of the Rings when Morgorth was a man, and Sauron is just a Lieutenant. It is a tragic tale of the family of Hurin, who is cursed Morgorth. There is murder, incest and betrayal, nice capped off with multiple suicide, (I am of course just breaking it down to the bare bones). So, having read it and taken a couple of Vallium I felt obliged to ask why choose this book to base your first concept album on?

“Some may say that all of our albums have been concept albums, because we write about Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but for me Doombound is the first true concept album, because of the continuous story which goes through the album. I had an idea for the concept album when we started to write our third album Evernight, but back then I found it too challenging. Now I felt that the time could be right to try it again and this time we managed to make it work. There were also some other options for the album’s concept, but somehow we just chose this particular story of Túrin Turambar/Children of Húrin. Afterwards I noticed that this story has a lot of similarities to Finnish epic Kaleva which also a nice feature as we are a Finnish band, but this wasn’t really intentional choice.”

Fortunately the album itself did not make me want to slit my wrists – unlike the book, which was a majorly depressing read. So what if you were pregnant by your brother, go on Jerry Springer and discuss it, don’t jump off a cliff, but I digress.

The album successfully tells the story of the novel lyrically, without losing the integrity of a metal album. We hear the vocalists less conflicted than in earlier albums, in some instances signing together, sharing verses. This is perhaps because the Middle-Earth represented in The Children of Hurin is saturated by the forces of Morgorth, so the Elf voice is less prominent. Having said that, there is still the distinct vocal contrast that we have come to expect from Battlelore. The album combines classic guitar riffs and fast drumming with storytelling. The music itself represents the emotions reflected as the story progresses. Turin’s anger and pride is built up by the speed of the instrumentals. The final track on the album, “Kielo” is an instrumental track. This is a brave decision for a metal album as it moves away from the fast paced shouting vocals we have come to expect. Opening with a steady drum beat, it is a melancholy track which seems to use a cello, flute and piano to represent the gloomy ending of the book. It also showcases very well Battlelore’s diversity as musicians. It is an excellent finish to the concept album, as the tragic ending of the novel would have been difficult to represent in song, although traditional metal heads may not appreciate the final track as much as the rest of the album.

I have tried to review the album in terms of the book, as it represents itself as being linked to the story as a concept album. However, you don’t need to have read the most depressing story ever to appreciate the music. It can stand alone quite comfortably. Knowledge of the work of Tolkien merely adds an extra dimension to the music, and perhaps an appreciation for the videos. Although they have no confirmed gigs for the UK Jyri tells me “hopefully there will be. There’s going to be a little break for our touring in June-July, because a few of us are having additions to our families so that will slow the ride for a little while. We really would like to play some good shows in UK, as your country has been a very nice to us and the gigs have been awesome.”

We at Rockonnection will keep our eyes peeled and let you know when it is confirmed that Battlelore are crossing the water. In the words of Jyri Vahvanen “Take care and keep it metal!”

Originally published on



Misconduct is Something to Shout About!

The Misconducters released their debut album in December of 2010. Angrier than an angry beaver on PCP, It’s All Yours includes re-recorded versions of the four songs on misconducters_featuretheir 2008 EP You’re Asking for It… which, to be fair, I was.
Although front man Den has remained a constant on guitar and lead vocals, the rest of the band’s line up has changed since the EP release, and the addition of Cai on drums and backing vocals gives the new album a much more polished finish than the more rustic EP.
Having completed the medium level of Guitar Hero, Rockonnection felt that I was amply qualified to review this latest offering from the Misconducters, and, since I share the angry world hating view that the album imparts, I was forced to agree.
The new release from the Misconducters combines Punk Rock with Metal and Hard Rock in an eclectic mix that defies genre. This is perhaps not surprising, when we consider the many different influences, including blues artists like Elmore James and Steve Ray Vaughan. Den tells me that he takes inspiration from everything from The Beatles to Napalm Death, describing the sound as “organic” and suggesting that it is a living entity, constantly changing and developing, which is true. He doesn’t like labels and says that
“uniforms are for the narrow-minded”, which I think should be printed on a t-shirt and given to all his fans to wear with pride. When asked to define the Misconducters’ style, he told me, “Never mind the style, I play what I like to listen to”; a doctrine that should form the basis of all music.
The Misconducters’ sound is both distinctive and unique. Cai has a background listening to jazz, and only took an interest in metal music two years ago, when he started playing the drums. According to Den, “He was hitting the drums so slowly and softly on his audition, I thought for a second we could just turn into a pop band for a change.” Luckily for us, he found his angry side in time for the release of the album. I, for one, would not be impressed if the Misconducters were playing Blue Peter.
It’s All Yours sees Den taking on lead vocals, guitar and bass, as the band has gone
through a number of bass players who could not offer the level of commitment he
expected to take his band to the next level. “Right now, I’m more demanding than
ever in looking out for the band’s future” he tells me. “As a group we need someone
who wants to move the band forward, not just turn up, have a laugh and make some
noise”. Whilst Den’s skill as a musician is undeniable, and the album certainly loses
nothing from his multi-tasking, the band is nonetheless on the lookout for a new
bassist in order for them to start gigging again. There was talk for a while of some
experimental surgery to give him an extra pair of arms, but the risks outweighed the
benefits, and buying shirts would have been a nightmare.
I can’t talk about It’s All Yours without taking some time to talk about the lyrics.
Despite the fact that your granny would sit through the entire album saying, “What’s
he saying? I can’t understand, he’s just shouting. Why is it so loud?” the lyrics are
actually an important part of what the band stands for. They shout against mediocrity
and apathy in society. ‘Sick of Hearing Shit’ takes what society accepts as daily
norms, and illustrates how meaningless it is. The new video for ‘Bad Slave’
incorporated images of war and anarchy to show people rebelling against society, and
its conventions.

“I want my songs to make people think,” Den explains, “not just grab
a beer and pogo or headbang”.

Whether you agree with the attitudes or not, the Misconducters defy convention, and have to be respected.

Whatever your taste in rock music, be it Punk, Hard Rock or Metal, there is bound to
be something for you on It’s All Yours. I can’t wait for it to be released on Guitar Hero,
so I can kick its ass on medium. Until then, I’m off to annoy the neighbours with loud
angry music.

First published on


A Prayer for Pussy Riot

If you’ve been living in a box for the past several months you may not have
noticed what’s been going on with Russian Punk Rock band Pussy Riot. The
band, best known for their impromptu performances in unusual places such as
on top of a bus, or in the street, have had three of their members imprisoned for
two years on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
The charge is a result of a performance in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, where
the band, wearing brightly coloured balaclavas, sang a song called “Punk Prayer:
Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”

The performance did not appear to cause any damage to the church, and the two year sentence has been criticised by the majority of the World’s media, who have described it as “disproportionate”. The band is best known for their feminist and gay rights stance, which goes against current ideologies within their country. Whilst, prior to their arrest and sentencing, few people outside of Russia would have heard of Pussy Riot and what they’re about, the result of this sentence seems to have galvanised the European community into action. In an open letter to the band, actor and comedian Stephen Fry described the sentence as “astoundingly unfair and disproportionate” and a petition launched on the Avaaz site already has over 571,000 signatures, and this is growing daily. According to the petition site, upon sentencing, a member of the band said:

“Despite the fact that we are physically here, we are freer than everyone sitting across from us … We can say anything we want…”.

And that is perhaps the crux of this whole thing, freedom of speech. That is something that in this country we take for granted. We are allowed to have and voice our opinions without fear of reprisals and it is for this reason that I have waved my usual Curly Wurly and taken this opportunity to exercise my freedom of speech to inform you of these events. Whether you agree with someone’s viewpoint or not, you need to support their right to an opinion. What Pussy Riot has done is extraordinarily brave. They have stood up and spoken, knowing full well the consequences of their actions and they have drawn the World’s attention to their plight. Amnesty International has a page on their site dedicated to sending messages of support to the band members, who have been in prison since their arrest in March. The online shop has launched a range of “Free Pussy Riot” t-shirts and bags, with profits going to support their legal fund. It is, perhaps, surprising that a simple performance in a church would illicit this much of an international reaction, and I can’t help but wonder if anyone would have noticed if Pussy Riot had simply been given a warning and told not to do it again. Reactions to the antics in the church have been mixed. Some people have called it distasteful and even blasphemous, but in a closing statement, Yekaterina Samutsevich – one of the convicted band members – informed the court that this was not their intention.

“That Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of the authorities was clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyayev took over as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be openly used as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, which are the main source of political power in Russia”.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that Amnesty has deemed them “prisoners of conscience”.

The band have gained support from celebrities all over the world; Madonna wore the band’s name on her back at a gig in Moscow, praised their courage and said that she prayed for their freedom.
Most recently Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said in a televised interview that “a suspended sentence, taking into account the time they have already spent, would be entirely sufficient”. Whilst this by no means secures the band’s release it does show how public opinion is affecting the situation.

Can music change the world? Well, maybe.

You can read all three members’ closing statements here.
Read more about the comments by Dmitry Medvedev here.

You can read Stephen Fry’s open letter to the band here.

See Madonna’s comments here.

Feature originally published on

Watch the performance that started it all below.



*Important update:Please follow this link and read the update from Amnesty International. Remember, we have a voice and can use it