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Paradises of the earth: activism and film production

Hamza Hamouchene, producer of the groundbreaking web documentary Paradises of the Earth, talks about the reasons that led him to embark on this amazing project.

Picture by Nadir Bouhmouch. Some rights reserved.Just a few years ago, it never crossed my mind that I would be a producer of a documentary film or a web video series in the context of my work as an activist around issues of extractivism, sovereignty on land and natural resources and environmental justice. I remember then when a friend was surprised by my reluctance to embrace the idea that I should be producing films/videos to further my political activism. Now, you can see that I have changed my mind and realised that videos and pictures can tell a story better than a thousand written words. This change came about when I met Nadir Bouhmouch, a Fanonian and committed filmmaker, whose brilliant work can be inscribed in the tradition of militant cinema that is centred on peoples’ struggles and issues of justice at the grassroots level.

Based on my experience working on the Maghreb/North Africa region, it has become a conviction of mine that progressive and radical work at a regional level is crucial and indispensable. There are strong historical ties between the people in this region where a uniting vision existed in the past and was promoted by progressive and important anti-colonial figures. Moreover, these countries are all facing an acute assault to open up to multinationals and imperialist capital, resulting in forms of resistance that tend to be similar.

It is for this reason that I am passionate about trying to link up the struggles and different communities and organisations affected by extractivism and neo-colonial plunder of land and resources. And what a better way than organising international solidarity caravans to sites of community resistance against different forms of dispossession?

Throughout my previous visits to sites of fossil-fuel and mining industries in the Maghreb, I saw pollution, environmental destruction, prevalence of various diseases, dispossession and under-development. It is possible to state that the poverty in these areas is related to the existence of significant natural resources. This is the paradox of extractivism where sacrifice zones (with sacrificial people) are created in order to maintain the accumulation of capital.

People are not passive victims and always resist these injustices, sometimes in inspiring ways, giving hope that meaningful change is possible

The trip that took place in spring 2017 to southern Tunisia gathered 25 activists and community representatives from North Africa and Latin America and travelled to learn from and show solidarity to communities and organisations fighting injustices associated with mining and land confiscation. Similar to a previous trip to the ocean industrial town of Safi as well as a visit to the peasant villages of Imider in Morocco who have been struggling against the biggest silver mine in Africa, this caravan was a very powerful and inspiring experience of showing active solidarity, learning from each other, advancing a radical critique of extractivism as a colonial and neo-colonial model of development as well as thinking about building alternatives and ways of working together in the future.

This documentary series will tell a story, in fact several stories of people and communities facing politics of impoverishment, underdevelopment and dispossession. More importantly, they will demonstrate that people are not passive victims and always resist these injustices, sometimes in inspiring ways, giving hope that meaningful change is possible. 

​It has been truly an immense pleasure organising the caravans and producing this video series that will hopefully shine a light on some inspiring struggles in Tunisia and beyond, highlight some voices of resistance and pave the way to further transnational solidarity against the common enemy in our region: neo-colonialism and capitalist exploitation.

Synopsis

Picture by Nadir Bouhmouch. Some rights reserved.Defying the artificial borders that divide them, a “solidarity caravan” of North African activists embarks on an unlikely trip to visit Tunisian communities fighting social and environmental injustice. As their white bus skirts across southern Tunisia’s arid landscape, they stop by three towns deeply affected by the country’s rabid phosphate industry and one where farmers have successfully taken back their lands. Not coincidentally, these towns are also the cradles of the 2011 revolutions which swept through their countries. For many in this caravan, these uprisings failed to not only confront oppressive socio-economic conditions in which their people lived for decades, but also environmental ones.

These polluting industries are just one aspect of the neocolonialism that subjugates their peoples

Like many other places in the world, North Africa, has seen its resources plundered by extractivist industries which plow through the natural landscape. Often anchoring itself by making poor communities dependent on polluting industries, extractivism maintains the accumulation of capital by sacrificing people and nature. It destroys the ecosystems in its path, displacing people and leaving those who remain with nothing more than toxic waste. For this solidarity caravan, these polluting industries are just one aspect of the neocolonialism that subjugates their peoples. Each of the four episodes focuses on a different town: the polluted coastal oasis of Gabes; the dusty phosphate mining towns of Redeyef and Oum Laarayes and, finally the hope-filled experience of the collectivised lands in Djemna.

Visit the web documentary’s website to watch the episodes and learn more about this exciting project. 


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