Update on ‘Stolen’ Imbroglio

The Response

Tom Zubrycki and his two directors have put out a statement in response to the hoopla:

“Fellow filmmakers and colleagues,

We stand by the film we’ve made which raises the issue of slavery in the Tindouf refugee camps and Moroccan controlled Western Sahara.

The attack on the film is part of a sophisticated and well-resourced campaign by the Polisario, who run the camps. Bringing the main character out to Australia shows the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to stop the story.

We did not set out to make a film about slavery. It was only disclosed to us after 3 trips and 2 months in the camps. Originally we were invited to the camps by the Polisario. It was only after these disclosures became apparent that our relationship with the Polisario changed.

They detained us and attempted to seize the camera tapes and put pressure on our funding sources. Given they were unable to prevent the making of the film, they now attempt to undermine the credibility of us as filmmakers.

The claims of slavery made in the film are verified by three separate translators including a US Immigration Court certified translator. In addition the portions of the interviews relating to slavery were verified by Anti-Slavery International. Much of the discussion around slavery is conducted in Spanish, so Spanish speakers in Australia will be able to hear for themselves the accuracy of the translations.

We have chosen not to deal with the accusations in the recently released online interviews distributed by the Polisario. It¹s a pastiche of misinformation that’s being used to attack the revelations of the film. Many of those speaking to the camera have no relationship to the film. We were warned by our interviewees this would happen.

In the 7.30 report which went to air last night there were several inaccuracies:

1. Carlos Gonzales, the ‘independent’ filmmaker was introduced to us by Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative to Australia. He has in the past made at least one pro-Polisario film. He is therefore hardly ‘independent’.

2. The story questions how we could have discovered slavery when no NGO¹s have ever found evidence of slavery in the camps. This is untrue. Human Rights Watch actually published a report in December 2008 finding evidence of slavery in the camps. This was never mentioned.

3. The supposed ‘incorrect’ translations. This is simply a tactic to distract from the real issue. As we stated earlier we have had the film verified by three separate translators, in Australia, Spain and the US. Nevertheless we will get the translations re-checked and if we find any discrepancies we will most certainly make corrections.

The report implies that these ‘incorrect’ translations are critical to the evidence of slavery, whereas slavery is discussed in many other scenes, in both Spanish and Hassaniya.

A Mauritanian who spoke at the opening of the film at the Sydney Film Festival said the response we have had shows we have ‘touched reality’.

Daniell Fallshaw, Violeta Ayala

Producer Tom Zubrycki”

I’ve posted the whole thing here in fairness to the film makers.

On the first point of dispute, even if the cinematographer was not completely independent, it begs the fact that there is no corroboration of the facts. At worst he might be a political sympathiser for a corrupt regime, but it still doesn’t mean he is completely discredited for his positioning.

On the second point, I don’t think there’s a translation problem here. It’s a problem with how the word slavery is bandied about when there are no people coming forth saying that there is slavery. In other words, the distinct possibility of gross misrepresentation is what is being discussed. Not, the translation of words. That alone should be sending alarm bells to Mr. Zubrycki, but instead he would like us to consider that the translations were correct, therefore the message of the film is correct. Do you feel a spin doctor spinning this one?

On the third point, which is a re-statement of the second point; once again, it’s not a translation issue, but how exactly the subjects are being characterised. It’s the suggestion of gross misrepresentation that is still not being addressed.

It may still come out that they are right and that the Polisario really are putting this woman up to the counter-claim and that the cinematographer is partial to the Polisario regime – In which case I’ll retract my previous post.

If, however should it be shown conclusively that indeed this film misrepresented what it was allegedly depicting, there is no way these people should be allowed to continue as doco makers on government grants.

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