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Hotel Sahara: A ship might come

img  Claudia Lindner

 The film consists only of the people living in this town telling their stories, there is no accompanying commentary for which there is no need either. The reports of the migrants about their lives are absolutely sufficient to understand the nature of this place because of the straightforwardness and frankness they are given. The people interviewed share their hopes and dreams with the viewer, their thoughts about the world they live in. What they all have in common is their hope that they can make it to Europe and find a better life there. Their stories move the viewer, because they didn't leave their home light-minded, but saw no other way. What politicians in Europe disdainfully belittle as 'economic emigrants' actually are people who flee from abject poverty and hunger where there is no chance to a better future. It's the poverty and economic dependence the North keeps the South in for its profit. But when people in this situation can't gain their living and want to go where a humane life is possible, they find borders and patrols who guard this border in order to prevent poor people to cross it. Nouhadibou is nothing more and nothing less than a springboard over this border.

As unreal and inhospitable as the desert environment, Nouhadibou itself also is. When the migrants tell their stories it becomes clear that the town is no safe haven for them. They must gain their living there, too, because they must get money to pay a facilitator. On the other hand, the local police might arrest them, only because they might plan an attempt to get to Europe! Once arrested, they would stay in custody pending deportation, probably on unclear legal basis where this kind of arrestation always rests upon. A representative of the police in Nouhadibou of course claims not to do any foreign interests' dirty work, but with an EU-military base in Mauritania, guarding the coast and trying to track down refugee boats on behalf of FRONTEX, this statement is hardly reliable. What interest should Mauritanian authorities otherwise have in the prevention of departure of people from their coast to Europe if not because of international agreements, in this case with the EU border control agency? So the emigrants must be extremely careful and not talk about their plans too openly in town either. For women migrants, it's even more dangerous, because apart from the authorities, there is just everyone else on the streets who might try to drag them into prostitution for a living. Or sometimes they wouldn't find another job for a living.

The stories of the people trying to get to Europe leave a great impression on the  viewer, though or maybe because they are all rather similar. The migrants come from little villages or towns of the neighbouring sub-Saharan countries, living under very poor conditions with their families there who saved the money for their voyage to Europe in order to improve the whole family's situation. Facing the power they are willing to take on with to reach their destination, one can only call it a bold plan which they pursue with calm determination. They know the risks and they are no adventurers, no thrill-seekers. Maybe they don't even want to leave their countries by all means, but they have no alternatives, though some of them have more than mixed feelings. The film lets them tell their stories, and among the people interviewed, there are also a police officer, a spanish FRONTEX helicopter pilot and a local minister, so that the viewer gets the whole picture of life in this transit zone.

Watching Bettina Haasen's documentary as an European viewer means to cast a glance at a world one would probably never come in contact with in one's average European life. What remains at the end of the film is a deepening feeling that the the thin shell of wealth which a majority of Europeans may live in consists of high concrete walls and barbed wire securing the EU and shielding it from the countries of the South.

The film will be released for cinema on 6th of August, 2009 in Germany.


Original title: Hotel Sahara

Germany, 2008, 86'/52'

Director: Bettina Haasen

Director of photography: Jacko van t'Hof

Production: Gebrüder Beetz Filmproduktion

Distribution: Neue Visionen

Official website:

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