Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Return to Somalia" is a new series showing young adults from the West going back to the world's most lawless country

On October 16, PBS Howard University Television in Washington DC aired two 20-minute episodes of “Return to Somalia”, with starter website here.  Apparently the program plans more episodes and is looking for people of Somali origin interested in returning to Somalia for long periods of time for humanitarian and journalism projects.

The first episode, directed by Patrick Wells,  showed young men now living in the UK returning to Mogadishu. They worked on the “Anti-Tribalism Movement” and set up a highly secured meeting in a hotel.  The video shows a sign “Words divide us, Action unites us.”
The second episode, directed by Ruth Hamid, was “Aliya’s Story”. A young woman from America (Minneapolis?) visits Somalia and, before going, says she is in for culture shock. She considers her  wardrobe, and admits that America is all “ go go” and a self-centered mentality that “it’s about me”.  In rural African culture it is about family and clan.  She says he wants to experience that.
Once there, she tries to help build a school and repair a family home damaged by warfare.  She finds there is no government, no “phone book”, although there is some technology.  To get money for the project, you need to get approval from clan elders, an idea she has never encountered in the West.

She says that there are nice homes on the beach and that they are amazingly expensive even given the unstable government.
The series is also called “Breakthrough Somalia”.
It strikes to me that the short episodes could be edited and merged into a feature documentary film and put into the festival circuit (like Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, SXSW, etc).  The group responsible for the project may not know “Hollywood” well.  It would be a good thing to find an executive producer who could make this happen. 
Wikipedia explains the complicated politics of Somalia, with its civil wars, factions, and complicated judicial system that sometimes defers to Sharia but not always.  Somalia even has, to some extent, a barter economy, almost out of science fiction (it reminds one of the Third Dominion in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”). 
The most important Hollywood film about Somalia was, of course, Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down” with Josh Hartnett in 2001, about the 1993 raid (filmed in Morocco). There is also a 1983 film “Love Letters from Somalia” by Frederick Mitterand, where a gay man in Paris recalls a relationship in Somalia, which sounds hard to believe.  I think I saw that at the University of Minnesota at a festival when living in Minneapolis, around 1999.  The other important recent film is, of course, "Captain Phillips" (Movies blog, Oct. 11), about Somali pirates with one beach scene (filmed in Morocco) showing the culture of young men who get itno this.

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial Mogadishu photo.

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