Manipulative film 'Stolen' rejected by Norwegian film festival

The film ‘Stolen’, which falsely portrays a Saharawi refugee woman as a slave, has been rejected by Bergen International Film Festival. The festival chose to take it off the programme, out of concern to the main character of the movie.

Published 30 August 2010

Festival director at the Bergen International Film Festival, Tor Fosse, told the regional newspaper Bergens Tidende that the film was originally planned screened at the festival in October this year. 

But after going through the criticism against the film, the festival decided to not accept the movie after all.

“This refugee woman has suffered more than enough due to this film”, Fosse stated to Bergens Tidende. 

The refugee in question is Fetim Salim Hamdi, a kindergarten teacher, married and mother of four. The film claims that Fetim was stolen as a child by her foster mother 35 years ago, at the time when Morocco occupied Western Sahara. However, if going through the content that the film has been based on, one finds that the claims are groundless.

The filmmakers have out of thin air invented subtitles regarding Fetim in the movie, which do not correspond to what is actually being stated in the soundtrack. In this manner, Fetim is given a life story which is not true. Her foster mother is presented a slave owner, without giving any evidence for the claim. 

The film also contains English narration that does not at all reflect what is happening on the screen, as well as very grave out-of-context usage of clips, false Arabic to English translation of a written document etc. Participants in the movie have also told that they were paid to take part in the “documentary”.

Own mother rejected claim
Some of the many erroneous scenes, which appeared in the international premiere of the movie, have since been removed from a newer version. In one of these - now deleted - scenes, one sees the mother and sister of Fetim completely baffled by the film maker's allegations that Fetim was 'stolen' from the mother as a child, stating that the claim is completely wrong. The subtitles, on the other hand, stated the exact opposite. 

“A spectacular forgery” stated one of Norway's most experienced film makers, Jon Jerstad, to Bergens Tidende. Mr. Jerstad is former leader of the Norwegian association of film directors, and has made dozens of films for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr. Jerstad is one of the very few movie directors internationally who have so far, scene by scene, analysed the entire movie with an interpreter. Jerstad advised the Bergen film festival on the nature of all the errors in the movie, and how Fetim is being misused and misrepresented in basically all the scenes in which she appears.

Fetim asked already in 2008, a year before the premiere, that the film material of her not be used by the film makers, nor by cinemas or theatres. This has not been respected by the film makers. Some of the film festivals that have since been confronted with the fact that Fetim does not want the material to be screened, have not even taken the bother to answer the requests. 

“Fetim, being a refugee in Algeria, is of course not in a position to alone follow up or stop the international misuse of her image, and at least not in a position to attend all the festivals that screen her false history. Nor has she never been invited to any of the festivals. None of the organisers that have shown the film so far have independently tried to get in contact with Fetim, nor tried to verify the allegations in the film”, stated chair of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, Jørn Sund-Henriksen.

Three film festivals have so far decided to reject the film through the false representations of Fetim.

"If there is even a touch of doubt in such cases, it is enough for us to not show a movie", stated Tor Fosse of the Bergen film festival to the regional newspaper Bergens Tidende. 

Invents its own critique 
Never have the film makers admitted that the critique against the content of the film in Europe has come from independent organisations, filmmakers and individuals. 

To media, to potential partners and on their own Facebook site, the film makers have always claimed that the critique against the film's allegations is organised by Polisario – the liberation movement of Western Sahara. The reason, they claim, is that they have something to hide as administrators of the refugee camps. 

By ignoring Fetim's and European concerns against the film, and falsely stating it is Polisario who is organising a campaign against the film, the film makers turn what is an independent complaint to the claims of the film, into a proof of the film's argument that a violation is being hidden. 

The critique from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has itself been falsely represented by the film makers in this way. After being in contact with Fetim through telephone, the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara on its own initiative decided to try to stop a previous screening in Grimstad, Norway in June.

“Learning about the film the first time, and going through the erroneous scenes, made us all upset. When we presented our concerns to the film festival in Grimstad, it was clear for everyone that it was Fetim, ourselves and our lawyer who tried to stop it. But recently, the film makers have claimed to festivals internationally that the efforts to stop the movie in Norway was organised by Polisario, not us. Polisario have not played any role whatsoever in the process here in Norway. Our efforts to stop the movie are out of our genuine solidarity with Fetim. Why would we now run around begging money in Norway to pay for expensive lawyers, if Polisario were behind the legal process in Norway?”, stated Jørn Sund-Henriksen, chair of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, a voluntary organisation working for the defence of the Saharawi people's rights, and completely independent of the Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario has spent the last 17 years in supporting Saharawi victim of human rights abuses. The organisation is not afraid to bring up human rights concerns with Polisario, but at the same time supports its legitimate struggle for the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination. 

A group of Dutch concerned people are now facing the same lies from the film makers. They created a few weeks ago a support group for Fetim, as a screening is soon planned at a library in Holland. The group has asked the library to listen to Fetim who does not want the movie screened. However, the film makers now claim to their contacts that it is Polisario who are behind the efforts to stop the film in Holland. 

"We do this voluntarily, to give her a voice, to get her own message across. The fact that the film makers completely ignore her concerns, which we present to the library, is an insult to her and to us. From where on earth do the film makers get the idea that we are trying to hide something or that we are running the errands of Polisario?", stated Wout de Jong from Amsterdam. 

“If they systematically lie about a simple fact as to WHO is criticising the film, how manipulative can't they have been in the production of it?”, asked de Jong. 

De Jong has spent the last weeks going through the material of the film, but never in his life met with nor spoken to any of representative of any of the governments or movements mentioned in the movie. He states that the library that is planning to screen the movie has not wished to listen to the refugee woman's letter from 2008 that the film material of her not be screened. 

"Festivals should take responsibility and seriously listen to Fetim's concerns. Any screening of this movie is done in complete disregard of the wishes of a free and proud, but utterly poor and defenceless, African refugee", stated de Jong. 

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