Another ‘Stolen’ Update

The Story Won’t Go Away

I’ve been meaning to link to this article.

Ayala and Fallshaw stood by the film, saying it had been verified by three separate translators including Sy, who works as a Hassaniya Arabic to English translator for the United States Immigration Court.

Sy went through the film with the documentary makers in February, pointing out several mistakes in their subtitles.

He said Ayala and Fallshaw wrote down his corrections and promised to alter the subtitles. They arranged to meet for a screening of the final cut, but cancelled the appointment.

“They told me they would send a copy of the film for me to check, but they didn’t,” Sy says from New York. “They didn’t respect their commitment to me. I was surprised and disappointed.”

He saw the final version of the film for the first time last week and was shocked at its inaccuracy. “There is still a lot of work to do on the film,” he says. “The translation I put on paper was correct. I went through [the film] minute by minute, but a lot of the mistakes have not been changed.”

In one scene Salam’s mother and sister appear to confirm that she is a slave to her white foster mother. More recent translations show they are discussing Ayala, who they say has misunderstood the family relationships.

Another problem was that some of the film’s dialogue was in a local dialect that Sy could not understand. “If you don’t live locally, you cannot understand what they say,” he says.

In an email to Sy on Thursday, seen by the Herald, Ayala and Fallshaw accused the translator of “negligence”.

They say he failed to tell them his concerns about the translations and has damaged the film’s credibility. In a statement, they suggested Sy’s comments were part of an ongoing campaign by the organisation that runs the refugee camps, the Polisario Front, to undermine the film.

I can’t begin to express how disturbed I am by the section above. Because of the events described, NAATI has been brought in to check the translations. This is hilarious in as much as NAATI can be pretty hit and miss. I get a lot of interpreting work from people and organs that have sworn off using NAATI interpreters. I won’t hold what they’ll say about it in high esteem, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

That being said, I have to remind readers that I’m still yet to take a position on whether these claims are true or not. I am however, greatly disturbed that there can be such radically different accounts by people in the film over what these film makers created. If this were fiction, it would be Arnie trying to tell us, “no, Jim Cameron is wrong!  The Terminator T-101 is a Hamlet figure straddling undecidablity and not an incarnation of Death’.

I mean, that would be weird, right?

Anyway… It’s been a while since the Sydney Film Festival and the controversy surrounding ‘Stolen’, a film that made the claim that there was slavery in the refugee camps in Western Sahara. Since then, the claim was vigorously challenged but we’re nowhere near closer to finding the truth.

The truth, in this instance a small-t kind of truth is something that we can epistemologically hang our hats on in as much as we hang our hats on common concepts such as, “the Allies won World War II” or “The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times to date”. i.e., we’d like to establish whether the film makers were right or wrong about their claims. Not 100% absolute Philosophical certainty, but the kind that can beat out reasonable doubt in a courtroom. That’s what we’re talking about here, nothing more, but nothing less.

In the time since the Sydney Film Festival, there has been little news except Ive noticed a couple of mentions in the internet. The first is some kind of piece that supports the film makers, though it is unclear to what degree critical thought has been applied to this article:

In their offensive, Polisario supporters have gathered together foreign journalists who do sympathise with their thesis, in order to send reports which go along with their thesis , by arguing that  victims filmed in “Stolen” withdraw their statements, on the basis that  they have been offered money by the filmmakers in order to confirm that their slaves.

Kamel Fadel, the Polisario representative in Australia recognised the fact that the victims have been controlled during the action led by Polisario’s supporters against the film.

Concerning Fatim’s arrival to Australia, he said: “it was not us who invited her; she was invited by the Australian association for Western Sahara (AWSA), and members of federal parliament.”He made this statement during the same program at ABC‘s radio about the film. But he recognized, at least, that he paid the trip for her:  “she is here in Sydney with the Australian Association for the Western Sahara “AWSA”, we have paid the tickets for her to come “.

Kamal fadel has tempted to  criticize the quality of translation of statements madder by people interviewed in the documentary, they accused the filmmakers to have made the victims say what they have not said. The supporters of the documentary have reminded that “a large party of the documentary was translated and broadcasted by AL – Jazera satellite TV.

All these attempts were a failure; even the international organizations recognize the slavery practices, according to the Australian filmmakers “ …. When we were talking about slavery on the ground , the UN officials  say they did not know that it exits but when we travelled to Geneva , the deputy director for North Africa in the UN organizations said that they know it exists in the area where the refugee camps .”

Several voices rose up to denounce this reality, particularly in the Australian media. As to Romana Cacchioli , of the organisation against slavery has asserted  that all sequences of the  documentary are truthful, he said to  3Brisbane Times” newspaper , that such similar cases do exist and were mentioned by the Spanish media .

During the evening of the 11th of June the day of projection of the documentary, Polisario supporters have tempted hopelessly to make this film festival a political event. They have brought Fatim from Tindouf camps straight to the Cinema which is situated at Boulevard June Georges in Sydney.   The fact of the matter is that she was brought to Australia, while she left behind in Tindouf camps her children, to make sure that her answer remains in agreement with what she was told to say.  Dan Fallshaw said in this respect:  “   We spoke briefly to her last night and all she said they told her not to talk to us”.

It’s a weird depiction of events, which closes with this gem:

It is worth mentioning that the film “Stolen “was financed by the movie organism “screen Australia”

Pretty funny. It reads like a puff piece primed to pump the credibility of the film’s claims, but I’m not really persuaded.

The opposing Polisario have made available their side of the argument:

The film purports, in a sensationalistic way, to reveal widespread evidence of racially based slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps on the Western Sahara-Algeria border. Central to the apparent scoop is an interview with Fetim Sallem, a 36-year-old mother of four. She was in Australia to explain her story, which is significantly at odds with the film’s take on it (so much so that Fetim requested unsuccessfully to have her interviews removed from the film).

Rather than verifying shaky claims of slavery and then seeking out the source of this possible ill (say in the repressive environment the Saharawi people have endured since the illegal invasion by Moroccan forces in 1975, an event that sent many into the camps that still exist today), the filmmakers of Stolen chose to conflate a few ill-gotten and misunderstood accusations into a tabloid expose. The approach of the film-makers challenges the very basis of the documentary genre and undermines its value as a means of serious scrutiny. In an age when reality TV is nothing of the sort and when celebrity gossip is considered hard news, this is perhaps not surprising. But it is disappointing and very distressing for those who, like Fetim, are vilified in the process.

There are fundamental flaws in the film-makers’ storyboard. Fetim is not a slave and widespread slavery simply does not exist in the Saharawi refugee camps. This fact has been confirmed by numerous visits by independent journalists and human rights reporters over the years.

A member of a delegation sent by Human Rights Watch to investigate the film-makers’ claims said the delegation ‘‘did not find evidence of forced labour, certainly not of slavery of the kind’’ in 19th century America.

The Saharawi live under great strain and considerable duress, brought about by decades of foreign occupation. A generation has grown up in a refugee environment. Our society is not perfect, our situation not Utopian. None is.
But, slavery is something Polisario abhors and is on the record as opposing. The practice is an unacceptable cultural anachronism and we have outlawed it completely since the inception of our independence movement in 1973.

Polisario has worked hard to address whatever human rights issues we find in our midst and we continue to undermine all forms of abuse and restrictions on liberty. This year, Polisario openly lobbied hard for the United Nations mandate to include a human rights monitoring process in its mission in Western Sahara. This was quashed by France, an erstwhile supporter of the Moroccan occupiers in Western Sahara, using its veto power in the Security Council.

Not sure I like the tone of that one either. Anybody else smell a rat?

I guess we’ll see what NAATI’s *ahem* expert interpreters have to say about this one. If it turns out that the slavery claims are totally the product of bad interpreters, I think the world will have a good hearty laugh. If the film makers claims are true, then perhaps even the controversy would have been of benefit to the cause of the people in these camps. My hunch, like most sceptics is that these filmmakers played hard and fast with the truth in order to get a good story, but like I said at the top, I’m reserving judgment on that one. Others are not so kind:

Ayala and Fallshaw say they have have been victims of a concerted campaign by the Polisario to discredit their revelations about the extent of slavery in the camps and that the Saharawi people who are now coming forward to retract their statements are doing so under duress.

They stand by their story citing a Human Rights Watch report produced in 2008. However, while the report stated that no evidence of slavery or domestic servitude was found in the camps, it identified some vestiges of related practices in the form of permissions for marriage. When questioned about the Human Rights Watch report on ABC radio, Ayala explained that you had to “read between the lines” to appreciate the full extent of the problem.

Stolen is not a controversial documentary. Stolen is a hoax — a case of two young filmmakers fudging the facts about a place so remote they thought they could get away with it. Film festivals should be very wary of screening it and Screen Australia should answer some serious questions about why it was ever funded.

You still have to question how such a compromised film got out to the public, let alone got itself into the Sydney Film Festival, but then what the hell do I know about the Sydney Film Festival? I’ve never understood it, let alone liked it, so I’ll pass on that one.

I don’t know how Screen Australia can come out looking good with all of this, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to spin it.


Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

21 responses to “Another ‘Stolen’ Update

  1. janeagatha

    Sy has been put up to his rebuttal of the translation by the Polisario. I have no idea why. What he says doesn’t add up when you read the film makers’ response. He wasn’t even one of the translaters, just asked to verify which he did and provided a signed statement. Hassania is a small part of the film and Spanish speakers have said it could all be removed and the message about slavery would remain. Spanish speakers have been saying (and it appears to me to be so) that the talk by the black Saharawis about slavery is told freely and truthfully. The Polisario’s video of rebuttals appears forced and contrived to me. Carlos is clearly partisan to their cause; as so many seem to be. How valid is the Polisario cause when the Polisario are clearly a corrupt and oppressive regime. Open your eyes Polisario supporters! The truth is out there!

  2. How did you come to this information that this Sy the interpreter was put up to the rebuttal?

    The problem I have with this whole saga still is that there are lots of allegation some of them really wild but very little proof.
    Every time somebody comes forward to discredit the film, the defenders of the film makers rise and say, “look, that person’s been compromised by the Polisario”.

    I don’t see how the Polisario could buy out the interpreter/translator of the film in post-production. Or how ‘obvious’ it is that Carlos has a vested interest in supporting the Polisario. Why would he? These claims need proof – the sort that would satisfy a jury.

    But here’s the thing. If these doco makers want it to be considered a doco, obviously they need their story to be more correct than incorrect, more true than false, more reality than fiction. Their credibility isn’t exactly high right now. In fact they look really, really, really bad.
    Right now, the onus is on them to show the world they didn’t just massage the footage into a good story.

    If it gets shown by NAATI that indeed the film makers are right, then that’s one thing in their corner against the 4 claims against them. But the film is in dire need of that one thing in order to convince the gallery the film makers aren’t lying.

  3. janeagatha

    I read that when Sy’s rebuttal was emailed to “whoever” it was copied to a couple of Polisario people. In other words, this indicates that the Polisario had solicited the statement from Sy, all this time later. The film makers said, if Sy had had concerns about the translation why hadn’t he raised them before and why did he sign off on the translation.

    As a speaker of Hassania (few people are) Sy may well have partisan links to the Berber/Arab Saharawi. The film makers’ response you ought to be able to find online as the film makers statements have been posted. Perhaps search under Ayala and Fallshaw.

    Having followed these issues for the last couple of weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that the Polisario are dishonest and corrupt people who would say and do almost anything to further what they see as their cause; and their Australian supporters blindly and passionately support them and will hear no other story but the official Polisario one.

    The Polisario would do better for their cause by “fighting fair” and tending to their own affairs instead of slandering innocent others so widely. The Polisario seem to believe the film makers are Moroccan agents. This is a ridiculous and paranoid idea born of their conflict. Dan Fallshaw is my nephew, an ordinary young Australian whose honesty and integrity I do not doubt.

    It has been hard for me seeing all the wild allegations levelled at the film makers by the Polisario and their Australian supporters; including the well orchestrated media campaign here in Australia that has involved some prominent political leaders.

    When you look at the issues closely, as I have, the case being put by the Polisario and their supporters is flawed and inconsistent and blind to key facts.

    A key inconsistency is, if participants were bribed or tricked into talking about slavery on film, what is the point now in going to so much trouble quibbling about the veracity of testimonies that the Polisario have already said are fabrications. Sounds more like the translations and statements are true and were freely made and that the Polisario want to suppress evidence of slavery.

    As I see it some of the key facts that are being denied or overlooked by the Polisario and their supporters in this debate are:

    The Polisario are the white Berber/Arabs who are the traditional slave masters.

    Slavery is practised at Tindouf via a hereditary slave caste of a minority group of black Africans, who have been passed down the generations for hundreds of years.

    Taking children from their parents at a young age is part of the process of subjugation; just as Fetim was taken from her mother at the age of three as shown in the film. It is likely Fetim would say whatever her masters told her to say.

    Add to that, it is forbidden in that culture to talk about slavery which is linked to their Muslim religion via a belief that as with their wives their slaves have been given to them by god.

    The Polisario control all the resources necessary for the life of those in the camps so they have a lot of power over the residents. The UNHCR is on record that they continue to have concerns about oppression of freedom of speech and freedom of movement of camp residents by the Polisario.

    The most oppressed in the camps are the minority of black Africans in the slave class who have suffered generations of oppression. While a minority, the available evidence is that there are some 20,000 of them, most of whom would be affected in some way even if they’ve been given a nominal freedom – given that for most the relationship of dependency with their owners or former owners persists.

    Some who have escapted to Mauritania from the Saharawi camps have told their own stories. They say they escaped under cover because the Polisario would not allow them to leave. Some of these stories should also be available on line

  4. Well, I’m not a Polisario supporter. I have ZERO interest in that part of the issue.
    This is, amongst other things, a film blog of sorts. I AM very interested in the veracity of the film makers’ claims about their film.

    I just want the truth.
    Right now, the film makers look really dodgy. That’s not my judgment, that’s the collective media’s judgment. But I’m willing to be shown otherwise, so I’m waiting to see what NAATI has to say.

    If NAATI is willing to back the film makers’ claims, I’d be happy to accept it and will make a retraction. If NAATI turns around and calls out the film makers, I don’t see there being much merit in defending them.

    Until then, the rest of it is assertions based on character or motive. It’s not very persuasive.

    As in, “the Polisario are evil and corrupt. My nephew is a good boy and has integrity.”
    I’m sure that’s true enough for you, but it’s not much whack in the epistemology stakes, is it?

  5. janeagatha

    I’m not sure how you would know what the collective media’s judgement is without conducting a survey.

    Most of the negative coverage in the media is press releases from the Polisario and their supporters, who include Meredith Burgmann, Yvette Andrews and Bob Ellis who are influential and have a lot of media contacts and credibility.

    From what these three are saying, they believe what Kamal Fadel says. They believe Fetim is Deido’s “foster daughter”. They believe slavery isn’t and probably never has been practised by Berber/Arabs. They believe the Polisario don’t oppress camp residents. They basically believe the Polisario are the good guys and could do no wrong. I’ve found that much info to the contrary is readily available and I don’t mean from Moroccan propaganda websites.

    All of the claims against the film have the benefit of clever media spin however when you look closely at the claims, they lack substance in terms of a serious questioning of the validity of what participants say in the film and of the faithfulness of the translation.

    I had no knowledge of these issues initially and wanted to find out for myself. The truth of these issues has become obvious to me.

  6. For the record,
    Here is Bob Ellis’ take:

    The salient bit is here:

    “We are not even told that the central character, Fetim, has a husband, Baba, who works in Spain, has an engineering degree from Cuba and sends her money from Spain. She is presented as a single mother and (it is rumoured) a slave.

    Baba and Fetim attended the film’s world premiere and showed their passports to the audience and said the whole family holiday frequently together in Spain unharassed by the Polizario, and how can this be?

    Slaves with passports? What is this? Slaves flying Qantas and staying unpoliced with Meredith Burgmann, the former President of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, in Glebe?

    “There’s no reason slaves can’t fly overseas”, said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. “Slavery is a state of mind.”

    “Slavery can be mental”, Violeta Ayala said. “I never said Fetim is a slave”, Dan said. “Other people in the film do.”

    A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? “I never said she was a slave”, Dan said. “The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind.”


    Bob Ellis might be a lot of things, but he does speak his mind. If you’re playing the “goes to character” card, I would suggest strongly that his character would not allow himself to be manipulated by a Polisario spokesperson as you allege. Bob Ellis, in he context of Australian Film Commentary is a well-established voice, like him or not.

    Also for the record, here is Yvette Andrews:


    Fetim Sellami immediately reminded me of the strong, gracious women I had met in the Western Sahara refugee camps in 2004 when I toured there with then-president of the NSW Upper House, Meredith Burgmann. Sitting on Burgmann’s couch in inner city Glebe — where she stayed while in Sydney — Sellami chatted happily in Hassaniya with her husband and smiled at our clumsy attempts to communicate.
    However, when asked about her experience with Australian filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, her demeanour darkened. “We welcomed them into our homes. We fed them. And they made up terrible lies about us.”

    Fetim Sellami travelled to Sydney from a remote refugee camp in North Africa infuriated by their controversial documentary, Stolen, that claims she is a slave. Far from being a slave, Fetim is a kindergarten teacher.

    The film has caused a furore over its allegation that slavery — black Africans owned by Arab families — is common place in the refugee camps where 165,000 Saharawi refugees have lived since Morocco invaded their country of Western Sahara in 1976. The camps are administered by the Polisario, the Western Sahara liberation movement.

    Historically, slavery existed in the region but it is now outlawed throughout North Africa, although there are still concerns about residual practices especially in Niger and Mauritania. Like everyone else with a connection to the camps, I was shocked when I heard about the allegations of entrenched slavery and was keen to know more.

    However, what is presented in Stolen is not a rigorous account of a serious issue. Rather, evidence is mounting that the story is concocted and that the filmmakers’ approach was unethical.
    No mention of Kamal.

    So we await the NAATI adjudication.

    Seriously, what more do you want? The film makers are getting more than fair share of “benefit of the doubt” in all of this hullaballoo.

  7. janeagatha

    I have read and responded to what Bob Ellis and Yvette have had to say on this subject some time back. They are wrong and I do not wish to revisit their misinformed ramblings.

    The filmmakers have done nothing “wrong” other than to make a film on a topic the Polisario would rather was not screened.

    Undoubtedly the filmmakers will be vindicated by the NAATI “adjuctication” – a term that implies they have been charged with/committed a crime rather than the true situation, which is that they have been publicly vilified by prominent Australians for seeking to honestly portray the practice of slavery, which they inadvertently uncoverd at Tindouf.

    It will be interesting seeing how Kamal and other prominent peole who have jumped on the Polisario’s bandwagon will respond to the forthcoming vindication of the film…

    It has been horrifying seeing so many extreme leftists in Australia, who claim to espouse socialist ideals, behaving more like Nazis than citizens of a democratic country.

    These people have unfairly judged the film and the film makers purely on Kamal’s say-so – the say-so of a representative of a corrupt and oppressive regime who similarly claims to espouse socialist ideals.

    At least as Australians the filmmakers can still rely on some of our public institutions to support democratic processes. There’s been no democracy at play in the recent attempts to charge, place on trial and execute the reputations of innocent people by Australian media.

    I’m hoping when the film makers have the opportunity to recover and martial their resources following the reprehensible public attacks on their characters that they will see fit to pursue defamation proceedings.

  8. Well, I read your arguments against them, and found them wanting.

    For a start, you’re attributing to the Polisario qualities paranoiacs normally attribute to the CIA or the KGB or Mosad. No matter how evil, the reach of Polisario cannot be that long and that extensive.

    Ditto for this Kamal figure. You’re attributing way too much persuasive power to this man. All sensibility and credulity tells me if this man were as ideologically motivated as you claim, then there’s no way Bob Ellis is going to be siding with him. No way.

    The certitude with which you say the film makers have done nothing wrong says more about you than the film or the situation the film makers find themselves in. Plenty of people are disturbed by the allegations. Plenty of people are asking how there could be so little provenance. Plenty of people are asking why Screen Australia funded a project that has turned out to be so ethically questionable.
    They are demanding answers – none of which *you* can provide or counter.

    I’m most certainly NOT persuaded by you or your insistence that you are convinced. There is no media conspiracy. The journalists are seriously questioning the ethical standards by which the film was fashioned by the standards they themselves are held to, every working day.

    I’m sure you feel you’re doing the right thing standing by your nephew, but that’s just not going to cut it here on this blog, or anywhere. The more you write here, the more *I* am convinced that the film makers did do something wrong and they’re trying to remedy it by sending you out to pretend to be an objective person who is convinced of their cause, writing your little comments wherever you can find threads and topics about this subject.

    So, good luck with the defamation suits. I’d love to hear what the judges will say when they when the film makers haul out their Polisario conspiracy theory and accuse Bob Ellis and Yvette Andrews and Kerry O’Brien and all the rest of being on the Polisario pay roll. Then they’ll put you on the stand as a character witness to say “Dan’s a good kid”.
    I think I’ll book seats at the courthouse and bring some pop corn for that one.

  9. janeagatha

    Apologies if I offended.

    Do you represent a journalists’ professional association?

    The film makers explained that despite Fetim’s retraction they decided to go ahead with the film because they felt Fetim had been forced into her retraction by the Polisario and because others who had not (at that point) retracted their statements, wanted their words to be heard.

    The filmmaking process was cut short by the Polisario which prevented the filmmakers from wrapping up the filmmaking in the usual way; leaving many ends untied. This does not reflect on their professionalism; given that the premature cessation was out of their control.

    Apparently the decision to go ahead was made in consultation with and with the support of Tom Zubrycki.

    This is a film about human rights abuses in an area where human rights are under threat. Those who are responsible for the human rights abuses are opposing the film here, via a well resourced media campaign. Why?

    The media farce in Australia has underlined how keen the Polisario (and their backers) are to continue to suppress human rights amongst their hostages in the desert.

    As to Kamal’s Australian supporters: Yvette Andrews and Meredith Burgmann seem to have had a long and friendly association with Kamal, through the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA). They have held numerous fund raising events over the years and have even visited the camps. I suspect however that they may be starting to question the wisdom of their friendship with Kamal.

    I don’t know why Bob Ellis jumped on the band wagon. Perhaps it’s just his inclination to launch unjustified attacks on people’s characters.

    Kamal has had blind and passionate support of the Socialist Alliance in this country. This appears to be part of long standing support for all socialist causes internationally; the Socialist Alliance and others having likened the Polisario cause to East Timor.

    However, having come to look into the Polisario cause recently I have opened my eyes and questioned further the wisdom of passionate support by Australians for foreign causes where they may not be fully aware of the wider political context; motivated rather by a blind ideological zeal that has turned them against all they see as capitalists.

    I’ve looked into the research on the viability of small countries. They are really up against it.

    I refer to pragmatic considerations, in relation to national security and economic viability, not ideological considerations. I add this proviso because when I raised this before Socialist Alliance people accused me of being a fascist or capitalist or monopolist opposed to the international socialist agenda. I support fair trade!

    I also like to judge issues, on their own merits as they arise, and not blindly support any cause. For reasons of survival I place feeling safe in my own country as a far higher priority than supporting foreign causes.

    The world is a riskier place than it used to be. A future has been forecast of increased dissension where terrorist groups opposed to the interests of western countries inflitrate and conduct operations from small vulnerable countries or unstable regions, such as the Western Sahara, thereby further increasing political instability worldwide.

    Frightening as it is, I’m starting to suspect that we may have opened our doors to these very same people, in the form of Kamal Fedal.

    I’ve found Kamal to be highly dishonest and chameleon-like in what he says and how he presents himself. This has raised some questions:

    How much support is Kamal and the rest of the Polisario getting from the Algerian government?

    Was Kamal selected to come to Australia because he is charming and has the ability to persuade?

    Did Kamal grow up in the refugee camps as he claimed? (A sure winner of sympathy for his purported cause.)

    Do we know what Kamal is really in Australia for?

    Where does the AWSA fund raising money go and how is it spent? The Polisario have refused independent audits of how they spend aid money.

    Pursuing a logical argument, what interest would the Algerian government (and their allies) have in supporting the Polisario in a campaign to suppress a small Australian documentary about the practice of slavery at Tindouf.

    Well, they’re all Muslims for one thing, and Muslim countries did not abolish slavery 200 years ago, when we did in the West. Rather it persists in many quarters to this day.

    My point is, there could be more to this well resourced campaign to suppress the film than many people realise.

  10. janeagatha

    Addendum: I’ve not been responding at the behest of the film makers. I’m acting independently.

    My issue is how the Australian media has been misused to push the Polisario cause. I will do what ever I can to counter this.

    You have accused me of not substantiating my arguments while you keep issuing statements based on what I can see is a whole set of unfounded assumptions.

  11. janeagatha

    This is not the first time such a campaign against film makers has occurred. Here are some excerpts from another such saga:


    Hubert Sauper received worldwide renown in 2004-06 for his documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, which exposed the interlocking conditions in the African Great Lakes Region that combined to create a modern nightmare of physical and environmental disasters: AIDS, prostitution, starvation, arms trading, and the introduction of an invasive, carnivorous fish that brought Lake Victoria out of balance while creating a billion-dollar export trade. As critics, fellow filmmakers, and scholars, we have all benefited from Sauper’s courage, talent, and acute insights.

    The people who appeared in Darwin’s Nightmare have been subjected to serious pressures from the Tanzanian government, and have been filmed recanting their statements in the documentary. As a result, they may be seen in photographs on the “alternative” websites claiming that they had been paid to “act” in the documentary and to recite lies scripted by Sauper. On at least two occasions, on these websites, people have suggested that Sauper should be beaten to death or be executed in an electric chair for doing “bad things” against Tanzania.
    This hate campaign, driven by nationalist and economic interests, impugns the documentary strategies of the film, even though the methods that Sauper uses are widely accepted and respected tools, routinely employed by modern documentarians. Those who attack him hold to a model of documentary drawn from the television travel show, illustrating the beauty of the country and supporting the government’s position. They charge Sauper with making a film that is not a documentary, not factual, not true. And they have tried to neutralize his film by contending that it’s in fact a scripted movie. A massive dossier compiled by Sauper and his supporters documents the enormous media campaign, hundreds of articles, television shows, radio shows, emails, websites, and now lawsuits against the film.

  12. janeagatha

    Here’s some more background to Darwin’s Nightmare:

    The campaign to discredit Stolen has probably had a similar effect as with Darwin’s Nightmare. I hope that, as with Sauper’s film, in time the message of Stolen will be heard widely. Truth is bold and bright, like the sun, and can not remain hidden forever.

  13. I’m going to wait until NAATI issues statement about it.
    Then I’ll judge it against my own experience in dealing with NAATI, and judge for myself if the film makers are correct or not.

    It’s the best I can do, and it’s the position I originally stated in the post.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll go through it bit by bit.

    The legal definition of ‘knowledge’ is ‘Justified True Belief’. It’s a blunt tool, but there’s a reason why it’s the benchmark. I understand you have ‘True Belief’. I’m waiting for NAATI to give me some of the ‘Justification’ part.
    And even then it would be a compromised ‘expert witness’ opinion’, but I’d be willing to take that ‘opinion/Doxa’ on board as something of a justification and therefore a verification of the film makers’ claim.

    It’s not as if I exist in a vacuum beyond people’s opinion; it’s more like we all swim in a sea of everybody’s opinion – but this is all the more why I’m demanding about ‘Episteme(knowledge)’ over ‘Doxa (opinion)’.

    My scepticism runs deep for this good reason. It’s the same scepticism I use to deal with all things I cover in this blog. I’m not sparing of anybody not even Bob Ellis, Yvette Andrews or this Kamal.
    I think they could be lying, could be mistaken, or could be misinformed.
    But at least with Bob Ellis, he has a public life that he has to weigh up his name before he lies. More so with the 7:30 Report, less so with Yvette and Kamal; but I still remain unconvinced as to whether these people apart from Bob Ellis are all in it to discredit the film makers at the behest of the Polisario.

    By the same token I’m not framing the film makers any more negatively than they’ve been presented to me. I’ve even duplicated the full text of their explanation – and found it wanting, but I did not editorialise them. They got their full say here. I paid them that much courtesy.

    I sure don’t see why they should get my vote/support without better proof – proof that NAATI *might* provide.
    If NAATI backs the film makers’ claim, then the film makers have a case. I’d even be willing to pitch in for them; but if NAATI doesn’t provide their thumbs-up, then we’re back to square one where there is no ‘Justified’ in our hope of reaching Knowledge = ‘Justified True Belief’.
    Just your true belief, which is not enough.

  14. janeagatha

    Thanks for your response; herewith some notes in response.

    Bob Ellis for one has been successfully sued for defamation; suggesting he is rather careless in making unfounded criticisms of others.

    From what I’ve seen of the criticisms of the translation, and I have followed this closely, the issues that have been raised are minor details only that do not affect the meaning of the film over all. Many people have supported this view, in particular the Spanish speakers.

    It is the media spin that has made the translation issue look like a big deal, worded as if the film’s credibility were being cast in doubt. This is the spin on all the media coverage. What I see is that despite all the rhetoric, the criticisms lack substance: including the bizarre parading of Fetim and her rebuttal in the media, which has not rung true for a lot of people, including me.

    A re-translation may well make the message about slavery more stark. My feeling from viewing the film was that the film makers had been taking great care not to offend the Polisario (following three years of attempts by the Polisario to suppress the film) and that the message about slavery was subtle as a result. Even after the film and in the 7.30 Report the film makers did not speak against the Polisario, despite the nightmare the Polisario have put them through for 3 years.

    Following the Polisario response or should I say full frontal attack after the screening, I feel the gloves may be off. The film makers efforts to be diplomatic and sensitive towards the Polisario cause appears to have been a pointless exercise so they have been let off from needing to be PC; and have nothing to lose now by being brutally honest.

    The Polisario by placing themselves in opposition to the film makers have opened themselves to closer scrutiny by a wider public, which they might have done well to avoid in the interests of their independence cause. Certainly I’ll be looking very closely at their activities in future and won’t hesitate to speak up.

    In relation to the UN lady, I read that the edited transcipt in the film which she had criticised was kind to her and had protected her from exposure on the slavery issue somewhat. However she has complained about the editing post hoc (possibly at the behest of the Polisario) and the PC thing now is for the film makers to show the full interview that she had signed off on. The UN lady may well come to regret having made that complaint.

    Many of the criticisms and questions, while they may have been intended to discredit the film may work in the film makers favour as far as supporting the case that they did in fact discover slavery in the camps.

    Perhaps because so many people still find it hard to believe or accept that slavery exists in the camps, rather than being sensitive and PC towards the Polisario and the UN, the message about slavery in the camps needs to be made loud and clear so that people like you will stop suspecting that the film is a fraud.

  15. On the point regarding Bob Ellis and defamation…

    Bob Ellis getting sued for defamation was successful, but hardly credibility-shattering:

    “All it said was that a certain woman had slept with two men who had great futures ahead of them, and married one. The idiocy of it was that one of the men sued saying his career had been impaired and his reputation smashed, by the allegation that he’d had pre-marital sex. Now, lately, it has become plain that he did, moreover that he’d had pre-marital sex so decisively that the woman mistook him as the parent of her own child. Gimme’ a break!”

    – to quote the man.

    I think saying he’d been “successfully sued for defamation; suggesting he is rather careless in making unfounded criticisms of others”, and therefore applying this ‘suggestion’ to his judgment, is drawing a pretty long bow.

    I mean, you wouldn’t want to be judged by those kinds of one-eyed standards any more than I would.
    I’m still willing to properly consider Ellis’ criticism of your nephew, fully cognizant of the fact that yes, he’d been sued successfully for defamation before. It doesn’t detract from his statement.
    You are arguing it goes to character, but it just doesn’t.

    You’re simply not going to change my mind on that. So let’s drop the issue of Bob Ellis’ credibility.

  16. On how the translation became such a focal point…

    When the initial charges were made that your nephew and Ms Ayala were misrepresenting their subjects, they put out a statement with Tom Zubrycki.

    In it, they claimed their translations were accurate, and therefore verified and the verification can be duplicated.
    In their words:
    “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.”

    Which, I took at face value. I think hiding behind the translators is a weak move, but hey, it’s not my move.
    However, they also said:
    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.

    Tom, Dan and Violeta essentially put their credibility on the line with that of the interpreters and translators.
    Which by extension, is why NAATI has to now verify the last claim.
    So it’s Tom, Dan and Violeta who made an issue out of the interpreters and translators.

    Believe me, I work as one, so it irks me when a client does that. Be that as it may, that’s not the problem.

    But here’s the problem.
    It is after the above that one of the translators “Sy” then said,

    ““They told me they would send a copy of the film for me to check, but they didn’t,” Sy says from New York. “They didn’t respect their commitment to me. I was surprised and disappointed.”

    He saw the final version of the film for the first time last week and was shocked at its inaccuracy. “There is still a lot of work to do on the film,” he says. “The translation I put on paper was correct. I went through [the film] minute by minute, but a lot of the mistakes have not been changed.”

    Which is why I made this entry.

    It’s NOT media spin.
    Either it is exactly as Tom and Dan and Violeta claim and there are loads of dialogue talking about slavery in those camps, in Spanish and Hassaniya,

    – OR –

    Tom and Dan and Violeta are way, over-stating their case. And that’s being kind. Many people out there are saying they lied.

    If NAATI can’t verify their claim, then they’re in trouble, and the media or spin has very little to do with it. They put themselves there.

    Now here’s the problem: You’re saying, “Sy”, as well as the Camera Operator Carlos Gonzales are Polisario supporters and therefore their testimony shouldn’t count; that Meredith Burgmann, Yvette Andrews and this Kamal are all somehow Pro-Polisario or have a vested interest with the Polisario, so their statements don’t count; the UN woman actually knows all about slavery but is backtracking out of fear of the Polisario; and Kerry O’Brien has an extreme-Left ideological beef with the film and that is why he’s taking the sides of sceptics.
    (Note, I’ve left Bob out of all this)

    The much simpler explanation is that your nephew and Ms. Ayala screwed up. This is why people are objecting to the film makers, and by extension the film. Not the other way around.

  17. janeagatha

    Dear artneuro, you do seem to have strong feelings and/or a strong position on this issue. Perhaps this is to do with a sense that the translators have been thrown in it by the film makers.

    Yet what you say above has not persuaded me that what you have quoted the film makers as saying indicates anything other than they believed what they said in these statements. They trusted the translations and they trusted that this faithfully reflected the subject. No evidence has yet come to light to disprove this.

    Specifically, no evidence has come to light that undermines the evidence of slavery as portrayed in the film. The minor issues that have been raised in relation to the translation do not negate either the veracity of the film nor the evidence of slavery that the film makers found.

    Omar Sy was not a translator. He was only asked to verify part of the translation, in Hassania. Spanish speakers have said, as I said above, that all the Hassania could be removed and it wouldn’t change the meaning. Also, as I said above, Hassania is not a written language and translations are easily disputed.

    Add to that, there are inconsistencies between what Sy says and what the film makers say. It’s anybody’s guess whether what Sy says is true or whether what the film makers say is true? You seem to believe Sy. I believe the film makers.

    Re Fetim, her retraction came only after Polisario interference. It does make them look rather oppressive to me. Again it is anybody’s guess whether Fetim is being honest or whether her retraction has been forced. I feel the Polisario are the ones who have misused Fetim. Based on UNHCR concerns about Polisario of free speech in the camps my view is as plausible as some of what you claim here.

    Who is to be believed? The whole scenario suggests to me that the film makers and what Fetim says on film is more believable than what appears to have been a forced retraction by Fetim and others made post hoc on a Polisario sponsored trip.

    The piece I posted above in relation to Darwin’s Nightmare speaks of a similar situation, where the Tanzanian government led a campaign to discredit a film; including in the homeland of the film maker; and where the media in that country published Tanzania’s malicisous claims as if they were fact. If you’ve not read what I posted yet, please refer above.

    Only certain people say the film makers have made false claims; most particularly Kamal Fadel and his supporters in the Australia Western Sahara Association – perhaps Bob is in this too given his review has been posted on pro-Polisario websites – certainly they feel he speaks for their cause. Perhaps Kerry O’Brien is also involved in the AWSA. It appears to me that the Polisario supporters in that organisation have become so emotionally (and no doubt financially) involved in their support for the Polisario cause that it has blinded them to the bigger picture of how the media farce appears to those who see it from outside their frame of reference; and how their support of the Polisario appears from the frame of reference of the politics of the Western Sahara conflict and the Polisario’s murky political alignments in that region.

    All of the evidence I have seen and considered so far has hence led me to the conclusion that the Polisario and their supporters are wrong about the film; and that the Polisario and their supporters have their own misguided and blinkered reasons for wanting to discredit the film, to do with a long standing issue with Morocco where the slavery claim had been levelled at the Polisario in the past (not that it isn’t also practised in Morocco). My sense of this also comes from how bizarre the accusations of dishonesty against the film makers appears to those who know them, and who know that they are honest people and that their motive in completing the film were humanitarian. There’s not much sign of humanitarianism in how Fetim was separated from her children, made to travel thousands of miles and paraded in the Australian media

    The Polisario and their supporters clearly seem to wish to deny that what the film portrays is true; which is not an indication to me that it is false as Kamal and his supporters have claimed in the Australian mediaming she’s not a slave when all evidence I have seen indicates that she is/was indeed a slave to the Berbers. How cruel is that?

    There is no doubt and foolish to deny that the Berber practice of slavery has long involved taking black slave children from their parents at a young age and that Fetim is one of these children. No way have the film makers or Fetim and others made this up.

  18. janeagatha

    The second last para above lost a bit of text somehow. After Australian media please read space”parading Fetim in the media clai…”

  19. At this point I’m happy to agree to disagree with you about the interpretation of events.
    The rest of it is pending what NAATI says.

    As long as we have an understanding we can come back to this then.

  20. janeagatha

    OK. We will agree to disagree at this point and will come back to this discussion when the outcome of the NAATI translation is made public.

  21. Pingback: Pleiades Mailbag 13/Jul/2012 | The Art Neuro Weblog

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