Hundreds of people gather around a dusty square in Daloa, Côte d’Ivoire, pierced by films projected onto the side of a giant truck. It is part of the Cinéma du Désert project, which aims to make West Africans aware of the dangers of making the perilous journey to Europe.
Children giggle and clap as one of the cartoon characters on the screen, a coxer (human trafficker) proclaims: “Quit your work and go!” People will hire you to work at the Eiffel Tower … You will become a millionaire very, very quickly. “
Over the course of the evening, the films give way to documentaries presenting graphic testimonies of beatings, sexual assaults and deaths in the desert and at sea. The crowd is silent.
According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are approximately 8.4 million migrants in West Africa. While most of these people are moving within the region, a significant number are also trying to reach Europe – risking their lives on a perilous journey.
Côte d’Ivoire is the country from which the second largest population of West African migrants comes, with 526 Ivorians arriving on the Italian coast between January and May 2018. Countless others perished before being able to get there.
the Cinema du Dedserves try to change that. Imagined by the Italian Davide Bortot, 34, mobile cinema has traveled around West Africa by truck for more than a decade. In 2009, while crossing Mali to deliver supplies to NGOs, Bortot was amazed by the welcoming attitude of the local population.
“In each village, people wanted to invite us to their homes,” says Bortot. “To give something back, we thought of showing a film. We stopped near Timbuktu and showed Alice in Wonderland. People went crazy and we had to keep playing movies all night. “
Since Desert Cinema traveled more than 150,000 km, showing films from Siberia to Mauritania. In 2017, the Italian government asked the Cinema du Dedserves to spread an awareness campaign on the dangers of migration through a project called CinémArena. He first organized 110 screenings in Burkina Faso and hopes to have screened films for at least 20,000 people by the end of his last campaign in Côte d’Ivoire.
Parked in Daloa, a six-hour bumpy drive northwest of Abidjan, Bortot and his team begin to hoist a screen on the side of the truck and install speakers. Shortly after, a crowd gathers. The city of around 300,000 inhabitants is an important hub for those traveling to Europe.
The evening begins with live dance performances. Shortly after, an Ivorian IOM official, Souleymane Barthé, explains the purpose of the evening – to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal immigration.
“We mainly work with the cinema to raise awareness of the tragedy that migrants are going through,” he told FRANCE 24. “In Africa, the cinema is an important means of communication because even the illiterate can be directly informed of the dangers. . “
During the intermission, Barthé asks the crowd what they think of the films. A man takes the microphone, stands up, and exclaims, “There is no work here. How can we stay if there are no jobs? “
His feeling rings true for many in the audience. The vast majority of Ivorian migrants are young men under the age of 35. About 90% of those who leave the country say so to find better paid work.
Barthé believes that projects like theDesert Cinema have a positive impact, if not quantifiable.
“We have not tested the effectiveness of this project, but I think so. People tell me that they weren’t aware of the dangers before watching the documentary, ”he said. “In Daloa, she is often seen by mothers, who previously called for their children to leave.”
In 2018, the Italian Interior Ministry, then led by right-wing populist Matteo Salvini, signed a new wave of funding for CinémArena through the IOM. Desert Cinema was one of many mobile cinemas to screen films in five West African countries. The motivations of an anti-immigrant populist like Salvini may be clear, but Bortot says it doesn’t matter.
“Even if a person gets more information so they can think about what they’re doing, it’s a good thing. The main thing is not to lose your life, to become a slave in Libya or to cause financial hardship to your family – the journey is always more expensive than you think. “