In Stolen, filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw set out to investigate conditions in a refugee camp in Western Sahara, and found themselves pursuing a story about modern day slavery. Authorities reacted so strongly to their allegations that the filmmakers found their project and their lives in danger.
When the film was complete and ready for release, the Algerian-backed Polisario and their representatives created a campaign to prevent the documentary from being seen. Political pressure, threats and legal action were levied against the film as it made its way around the world, screening at film festivals and at other venues.
The controversy has now followed Stolen to the U.S., where the documentary was scheduled to have its American broadcast premier on February 5 on PBS, as part of the public broadcasting network's annual AfroPop Series. Pressures to cancel the broadcast led instead to a postponement of it until February 26. The rescheduling gave WGBH, the Boston-based public television affiliate that originates AfroPop, the time to investigate the situation and create additional content for an expanded Stolen Special. On February 26, broadcast of the documentary will be preceded by a news report generated by WGBH. The film will be followed by an interview with filmmakers Ayala and Fallshaw, and a panel discussion in which experts Eric Goldstein (Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division Human Rights Watch), Madeline Campbell (Professor of Urban Studies, Worcester State University) and Bakary Tandia (Mauritanian Anti-Slavery Activist) debate whether slavery exists in Western Sahara.
The stories in Stolen and those swirling about it are compelling. Check PBS local listings for broadcast times in your area.Read my full review.
(PHOTO: Still from 'Stolen.' Courtesy United Notions Films,)