Thursday, December 9

Immigrants: Without a net: fishermen arriving in the Canary Islands from the Gambia | Future Planet



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The sun sneaks in geometric halos between the openwork bricks that act as a window in a shed where fish are smoked, in The Gambia. A woman with her hands always wet and cut by salt scatters the gutted fish on the blackened irons, after cleaning them on the beach, and waits for more boxes, or basins, or buckets, to resume the task. To tell the truth, for a few years now it has only been waiting for the leftovers, which the Chinese fishmeal plants have not wanted to buy, which are supplied, wholesale, with almost everything that can fit the adolescent arms and on the heads of the children. boys and girls who transport the merchandise just taken from the sea.

The work is not stopping, although now, in Gunjur, women who made a living from processing fish products can barely get hold of half the daily baskets they used to buy: fish has gone up in price dramatically across the country. This is what Mariama tells the Polish producer Gosia Juszczak, which records each movement of the process, from the entry on the shoulders of the small boats into the ocean, for his short film Stolen Fish.

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As soon as he gets off the boat, a fisherman named Abou analyzes how the ways of catching fish have changed: large boats destroy what was previously fished by local people by hand and do so without taking into account the breeding season, at the mouth of the river. Gambia, just where the fish go to spawn, in that narrow horizontal country completely embraced by Senegal and a piece of the Atlantic. With four or five kilos of fish you barely get a kilo of flour –which is processed at a frenzy in the Gambia by a handful of plants belonging to different Chinese companies– and which is mainly used to manufacture feed for cattle, pigs or poultry in Europe or in Europe. the Asian giants.

The business is so protected that there are people who have been jailed for demonstrating against the installation of flour plants that “take fish from the families of fishermen to feed animals in rich countries,” as heard in a neighborhood briefing with Greenpeace, attended by the film crew. However, in the assembly there are also those who raise their fear of being left without the jobs they crean those companies.

“Although the Gambia is a post-dictatorship, many things remain the same, and the village elders, who enjoy a lot of respect, seem to defend the installation of the fishmeal plants; big Chinese companies have succeeded in persuading much of the population and dividing the people. So, young people, who are very aware of what is happening, receive threats ”, says Juszczak, in dialogue with Planeta Futuro from Guía de Isora, Tenerife, where he attended last week to present his film in the framework of the 16th edition of International documentary film festival and market Doc glances.

The intimate silences behind collective causes

With a population of less than two million, the Gambia is one of the last countries on the United Nations list that measures the human development index and among the West African nations that suffer the most from this plunder of the sea. However, this audiovisual piece by a new director who arrives at the port of Bakau to document the collective reasons for the emigration also seems to be nourished by intimate silences and things not said, on the other side of the sea.

Because many, many of these young people, fed up with the corruption in their country, whose elites negotiate international agreements – and commissions – with the proceeds of foreign, swollen hands, want to cross over to the Canary Islands and start another life that gives them some hope. This is what the young fisherman Abou expresses, whose brother emigrated to Spain, and who carries on his back the dramatic weight of Stolen Fish.

The director maintains that “a good part of the people who are coming to the Canary Islands are those fishermen” who have been deprived of their raw materials, due to the overexploitation of ecosystems. So in 2019, when his interest in the subject had grown enough, he traveled to The Gambia. Once there, he found the characters: “I met Abou, because his brother was my neighbor in Madrid. He had told me: ‘You have to go see my brother, because he is the vice president of the Bakau port workers’ association.’ And meeting Abou was one of those gifts of life, because he had so much to tell, and he knew how to do it so well … ”.

In the documentary, which features the prodigious photography of Filip Drozdz, there is a scene that is perhaps the most valuable cinematographically: Abou calls his brother on the phone and the dialogue is so laconic that it leaves the viewer perplexed and full of doubts. Barely hearing what is happening on the other end of the line, it is noted that Abou’s brother – who has left his country for more than a decade – avoids talking to him, is in a hurry to cut the call, does not have (or does can) tell what is happening to him and just ask about the mother. He says he has something to do and both Abou and the audience are left with the next question half-spoken.

What do those who have been able to reach Europe hide? “For me it was very important to record that conversation,” Juszczak confesses, “and it was not easy because they spoke little to each other until the film. They grew up together, but have been apart for more than ten years and have a hard time communicating. There is, perhaps, a shame for not being well. After filming they began to treat each other more ”.

Migrants on one side of the camera and the other

What the authors bring, the author herself, in this case, as a life experience and adventure is part of an implicit dialogue with what the film narrates. Juszczak knows herself as an immigrant: she is a Polish journalist and translator, has also trained in biotechnology, has studied documentary film at the Andrzej Wajda school in Warsaw and has been living in Madrid for five years. “I also have a sister and this issue of family separation touches me a lot,” he says. However, she wants to make clear what she feels as a comparative injury (or privilege) due to her condition as a European foreigner, which enables her to live in the country she wants, without having to face the Way of the Cross institutions to which other foreigners are subjected, including, especially, Africans.

“I live in Lavapiés,” he clarifies, “because this neighborhood so populated by migrants has a lot to do with what I do.” What he has done so far are, above all, audiovisual reports on human rights, borders and diversity. Among what he chooses to highlight, there is a medium-length film about the porters of Melilla and her work as a human rights observer in the West Bank: “There I took photos, and I was missing something, some tools to tell what they told me and I found the audiovisual, which can transmit more layers of reality ”.

Then, in the talk, the revelation appears: “We are going to continue with Abou, who will be the protagonist of my first feature film, for which I already feel prepared.” Because what happened after The End of the previous documentary is also a film: “Abou decided to take the risk and travel to Europe in a boat. That was very unexpected, because he had expressed his fear to me; He knew that many people die at sea and he is a person who thinks about everything carefully, but he managed to come to Spain. His trip lasted nine days to the Canary Islands (a little more than a week that usually last, in general). Upon arrival, he was intercepted by the police, his phone was taken from him and he spent a week in a cell, unable to contact his family, although the minors who left the center before were able to notify the relatives of the people on the ship that all they had survived the crossing ”.

Abou landed in Spain in November 2020, but his brother is no longer in Spain. He is a fisherman who knows how to read and write, and hopes to be able to complete the papers as an asylum seeker soon: “His case is very complex, but he suffered political persecution there. He denounced government corruption and media complacency. He is a leader in his community and opposes other injustices in his society, such as female cutting, because he himself has a young daughter, ”says Juszczak. Making a movie also means accompanying him on this quixotic adventure of getting an appointment, at least one appointment, to take the next step towards a legal existence, because the truth is that all migrants hear every day requests for patience that, in reality, are noes covert, in addition to suffering the collapse of the Administration that also usually suffers the rest of the citizens these days.

For Juszczak, “it is an opportunity to show the other side of this collective history.” Furthermore, according to the director, Abou is “a character that the camera likes, that attracts. He wants to convey things and faces situations of great pain, but he also has a lot of humor ”. During the colloquia, after the projections at the festival Doc glances, Abou appeared by Skype and the audience asked him questions: “People applauded when they found out he was in Spain.” The film was also shown in schools and institutes in Tenerife and Abou, according to Juszczak, “was totally predisposed to answering what the boys wanted to ask, from what it is like to be in a boat or if someone died, to what do you eat inside there”.

“We have already filmed for two weeks, but this story will take shape little by little”, Juszczak advances on the spin-off of Abou, the Bakau fisherman.

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