INTERVIEW: Javier Bardem calls for awareness of West Sahara conflict

Berlin – The conflict in the Western Sahara region, which Morocco annexed in 1975, has become ‘invisible’ because of strategic and economic interests, says Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who presented a documentary on the subject at the Berlin Film Festival.

Bardem speaks to dpa about how the idea of making a documentary about the almost forgotten conflict came to him after a 2008 visit to refugee camps, home to thousands of people from Western Sahara. Despite a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and rebel group Polisario Front, the dispute over the territory has not been resolved.

Hijos de las Nubes: La Ultima Colonia (Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony) was shown at the Berlin Film Festival.

dpa: Once you were there, the human side must have played an important role.

Bardem: The first time I went to refugee camps I spent a week in the home of a family, with children and people who give you everything, all they have. And then you go and leave them there. And the faces of those people are showing a really honest feeling of sadness and pain, but also of joy, because you have shared their reality. This, when you get on the bus, makes you say to yourself that something must be done.

dpa: Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick said he found out about the Western Sahara case thanks to your documentary. Why do you think little is known about it?

Bardem: The Sahara case is absolutely invisible and that is what we wanted to humbly tell – why it is so. That invisibility is due to Morocco having the backing of France, which has a right of veto at the United Nations. It is a contradiction, given that we are talking about one of the fundamental countries in elevating human rights and the emergence of freedoms. And all of that, for a partnership consisting of geopolitical, strategic, economic needs and interests. That is what is so frustrating about it.

dpa: The documentary takes a very critical look at Western hypocrisy.

Bardem: We asked ourselves, where is common sense? We wanted to try to talk about Sahara, but also about other conflicts such as Syria where in the end, the dead are the same – the civilian population – and the players, those who divide the cards between themselves, are also the same. Common sense is lost in the name of this ‘Realpolitik.’ For this reason, the documentary for me is like a trip to understand what was behind it all, and to offer the explanation to others.

dpa: The festival programme also includes a fictional Spanish film on the Sahara conflict, Wilaya. Why did you choose the documentary format?

Bardem: Everything took shape as we went along, we began investigating, we went with the camera and filmed, but without knowing what it was all for. The film was born sort of involuntarily. We did not plan to do a ‘movie’ or a ‘documentary,’ it just made itself.

dpa: This is your second work as a producer following the documentary Invisibles, which also had a social theme. Are you planning to produce fiction as well?

Bardem: Perhaps because of what I do, I already have the fiction aspect pretty much covered… (Laughs.) But even so, in my work as an actor… I try to seek a relation with reality, because there are many realities, and ones which are really tough for a lot of people. In producing, I prefer to go for things that make sense doing; not to change the world but to put a bit more spotlight on it.

dpa: What do you think about the Berlin Film Festival putting such a strong emphasis on the Arab Spring?

Bardem: I find it extraordinary, it is a way of recognizing this strong change that is taking place in the world, which has to do with human rights and the freedom of expression, and which concerns us all.

dpa: Are you worried that, because of your fame, lending your name to a cause could distort the message?

Bardem: There comes a moment when you need to do what you feel, even if there are very difficult moments when it is almost better not to do it. I remember, for instance, the first demonstrations of the (Spanish protest movement) 15-M. Obviously, one shares all or much of what is being said there, but you cannot show up. You must not, because the cameras will focus on you, and you don’t represent anybody.

m&c, 17/2/2012