At the Galway Film Fleadh, which takes place annually in July, a film called The Runner caught my eye. The short blurb promised the story of a long distance runner that competed under the flag of a country that did not exist. That country is Western Sahara and that runner is Salah Hmatou Ameidan.
The screening served as the film’s premier- with Salah and director Saeed Taji Farouky present. After the screening the two took questions; Saeed, a Palestinian, who has picked up a bit of his current London home in his accent and style and Salah, who carries the gauntness of a soldier balanced by his athleticism. The next day we met to talk about the film and the situation in Western Sahara.
I talk through Saeed, who translates for Salah and myself, though the subtle differences between Salah’s Sahrawri Hassaniya Arabic and Saeed’s Eastern Levantine Arabic sometimes make things difficult. They met in London and as Salah tells me their origins in struggle brought them together, though he uses sport and Saeed uses his camera to fight oppression. Saeed first visited Western Sahara with Salah to film the 30th anniversary of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared on the 27th of February, 1976. Western Sahara is Africa’s last colony, the territory originally colonised by Spain was handed over to Morocco and Mauritania who made historical claims to the lands.