Stolen, filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw's documentary about modern day slavery in North Africa, has garnered acclaim on the festival circuit. And, since its premiere at last year's Sydney Film Festival, the film has stirred considerable controversy. The latest is a court case in Norway.
Stolen, which follows the filmmakers on a journey of discovery through Polisario-run refugee camps in the Western Sahara, was intended to be about the reunion of refugees with long-lost family members. But, the story changed dramatically when Ayala and Fallshaw found that their central characters, Fetim Sellami and her daughter Leil, and others whom they encountered, live as slaves under the control of masters who dictate their work, where they go, whom they may marry and other aspects of their lives. As Ayala and Fallshaw confronted their findings, they felt they were increasingly threatened by the Polisario authorities -- to the extent that they eventually found it necessary to hide their footage and smuggle it to safety.
Now, with Stolen completed and screening so successfully on the film festival circuit -- including acclaimed appearances in the US at Seattle International Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival and Los Angeles' Pan African Film Festival, where it won Best Feature Documentary -- Ayala and Fallshaw have been consistently called upon to defend themselves and their film against challenges brought publicly by Fetim and by Polisario Representatives, who accuse the filmmakers of misrepresentation, manipulation of fact and mis-translation in subtitled text.
The most recent challenge has been in Norway, where Fetim and Polisario Representatives actually attempted to block the film's second screening at the Norwegian Short Film Festival, held in Grimstad, by bringing the festival's organizers to court. After hearing all arguments, the court allowed the second screening. The case, which has been seen as a test of Norway's Freedom of Expression Act as much as it has as a validation of the film's point of view, actually brought more coverage to Stolen than the film might otherwise have had and, in doing so, has certainly turned a spotlight on the issue of modern day slavery in North Africa.
Stolen is supposed to have its New York premiere in the Fall, and the filmmakers are considering making a bid for Academy Awards consideration. Meanwhile, you can watch the trailer and keep track of upcoming screenings at the film's official Website.
(PHOTO: Stolen Poster Art. Courtesy Unitednotions Films).