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Behind the Lens: The Runner

Published: 1 year ago

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Words Kiran Yoliswa

Saeed Taji Farouky takes us behind his first documentary feature, The Runner, which explores life in Africa’s last colony through the life of Salah Ameidan, an athlete who has become a symbol of national liberation.

Trailer: The Runner (2012 Western Sahara documentary)

I think running is actually a beautiful metaphor for Salah’s political struggle: both require patience, determination, strength of will and an unwavering commitment to your goal. I took up running in order to make this film, in order to understand Salah. It taught me a huge amount about the process of learning to exercise some control over our bodies and our minds in order to push them further and further.

I visited the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara in 2002 and was fascinated and horrified by the ‘invisible occupation’, but also didn't fully understand the situation. Later in 2006 I was invited to the Polisario-controlled area of Western Sahara and that was the first time I really had the chance to fully understand what the Sahrawis were living through. At that point I knew I wanted to make a film about it but I don’t make films about politics or situations, I make films about people. I wanted to find a personal story through which to tell the story of Western Sahara. In 2009 a mutual friend told me Salah’s story. I started filming as soon as he arrived in London, at Stansted Airport, and slowly over the next three years the film developed and I continued filming with him more and more and seeing more of his life and the lives of the people around him. He is very determined but at the same time quite reluctant to be a hero. He uses a very public form of protest as his voice but he’s naturally a very private person. I liked him and was intrigued by him immediately, and I knew he wanted to tell his story and that it would be a complex story that could adequately reflect the true complexities of the struggle against occupation.

The Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara is also considered illegal under international law, recognised by no one except Morocco. Since the ceasefire in 1991 the Polisario have committed to non-violent resistance, which is fantastic, but also means that without much violence and blood very little news will come out of Western Sahara. Mainstream media have no interest in the situation there. “Nothing’s happening,” is their usual response. Until someone can confirm the existence of oil the rest of the world will see very little reason to get involved and very little reason to raise awareness of the occupation. Never mind that Western Sahara is the world’s largest exporter of phosphates, which is one major reason Morocco is still there, but I guess phosphates aren’t as sexy as oil.

I set up Tourist With A Typewriter in 2004 with my close friend Gareth Keogh; we’re both dedicated to human rights films that are creative and bold. We refuse to look at the people in our films as 'subjects', as merely characters for us to manipulate and exploit for our own selfish dramas, we want to give the people in our films the chance to speak for themselves. I'm really saddened by the traditional documentary output that is obsessed with speaking for other people, reducing them to sound bites and cardboard cut-outs that serve the pre-determined plot. In this way, I see our films also as a reaction against the mainstream media’s generally abysmal treatment of conflict and human rights films. It was, and still is, extremely difficult to fund the film, for a number of reasons. We heard a lot of comments from broadcasters at various pitchingsessions like “...but no one's heard of Western Sahara” to which we, logically, replied, “that's exactly why we’re making the film.”


Born: UK, 1978

Studied: Tufts University and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Lives: London

Career highlight: My career has only just begun, we’ll see...

Next project: An experimental ecological documentary shot in the Arctic called There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void.

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