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Stolen - Movie Review of Stolen - 2009

Following A Story as It Unfolds

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Stolen - Movie Review of Stolen - 2009

Stolen: Fetim Sellami and family walk the desert dunes

United Notions Film
Stolen is a perfect example of a documentary that started out to tell one story and wound up presenting quite another. While documenting the efforts of Fetim Sellami, a black African refugee women, to reunite with her mother, filmmakers Ayala and Fallshaw found procedural irregularities that raised questions about how Sellami had been separated from her birth mother and attached to a substitute mother, a white Arab refugee woman for whom Sellami works. When the suggestion that the Arab women was Salam's 'master' arose, the stunned filmmakers began a full investigation, with Sellami's support and cooperation.

Revealing Encounters

In the film, on camera interviews with refugees, camp authorities, diplomats and UN officials reveal that allegations about the existence of slavery in the Western Sahara warrant a full and carefully scrutinized official investigation. Instead, however, Ayala and Fallshaw quickly found themselves mired by frightening threats to their personal safety and freedom. They outline these developments and present details in their voice over narration and supportive footage.

The dramatic tale of the targeted filmmakers -- who film themselves meeting clandestinely with informants and wind up burying their tapes in the desert to prevent seizure and destruction of their cinematic evidence -- might distract from primary concerns about the existence of government-condoned slavery in the Western Sahara. Fortunately, it does not. In fact, the intensity of the filmmaker intrigue substantiates the suggestion that slavery exists in the Western Sahara because it announces unequivocally that slavery among refugees is an issue that the prevailing authorities, both the camp-governing Polisario and the UN, would like to see buried.

Ongoing Controversy

To that end, those who run the refugee camps have attempted to squelch the film by taking legal action to prevent screenings, and by trying to discredit the filmmakers in the press.

Additionally, Fetim Sellami has withdrawn her support, and now claims very publicly that she was coerced into working with Ayala and Fallshaw. She has even appeared at various screenings to inform audiences and the attendant press the she is not and has never been a slave.

What's The Truth?

Stolen - Poster Art

United Notions Film
There will probably never be a definitive answer to the question of what caused Sellami's change of heart, including her own explanations. Suffice it to say that people in refugee camps are understandably desperate, and desperation is a tricky task master.

Frankly, if you've not been closely following the insanely intricate and confusing political situation in the Western Sahara, you probably won't find the satisfaction of definitive answers delivered by Stolen. Ayala and Fallshaw are adamant about the accuracy of their presentation, and they present convincing evidence to support their allegations. But there have been questions raised about their interpretation of words, and others about the inherent intricacies of cross-cultural communications. So, again, unless you're really up on current events in the Western Sahara, be prepared to walk away from Stolen with a lot of questions in your head. That's not a bad thing. You just might start monitoring events regarding the refugee camps more closely, and perhaps eventually call for full and transparent investigations about the allegations of slavery.

Ayala and Fallshaw have acknowledged that the controversy surrounding the film has actually drawn more attention to it. That's a good thing, too. Achieving basic human rights for all humans requires constant vigilance and assertiveness. Stolen champions the cause.

Good Filmmaking

All together, Stolen is a very well made film. The cinematography is stunning, the characters are compelling, the interviews are intimate and the story is as gripping as a good spy thriller.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Stolen
  • Director: Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw
  • World Premiere: July 2009 (Melbourne International Film Festival)
  • Running Time: 75 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Location: Western Sahara, Algeria, Morocco, New York, London and elsewhere
  • Language: English, and Hassanya and Spanish, with English subtitles
  • Production Country: Australia
  • Production Company: United Notions Film
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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