"Your first mistake is your last mistake"

Youguiha Mohamed Embarek, protagonist of the film by Agustín Domínguez. / c7

The Gran Canarian Agustín Domínguez hopes to release his documentary feature film 'La berma' in 2024, starring the Saharawi deminer Youguiha Mohamed Embarek

Victoriano Suarez Alamo

Every morning, before starting the work day, the Saharawi Youguiha Mohamed Embarek repeats the same rules to the members of the gang she leads. She always ends her talk with the same phrase: "Your first mistake is your last mistake." This deminer is
protagonist of 'La Berma'the documentary feature film directed by
Agustín Domínguez from Gran Canaria at the head of the Gran Angular Canarian Cultural Association and that, if the established plans are fulfilled,
It will be released during 2024.

The filmmaker from Gran Canaria, who shot a new part of the film during his stay last October at the
12th edition of the Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara), recognizes that at least three or four more trips remain to the Saharawi camps in Algeria to complete this documentary that has achieved various recognitions and impulses for its development in festivals such as Miradas Doc, the International of the Colombian city of Cali and awards such as that of the Canarian Film Accelerator, among others.

His filming has had
two main drawbacks. First the covid-19 pandemic and then the resumption of
war between the Polisario Front and Morocco. “We can no longer travel to the wilaya of Smara, which is where Youguiha Mohamed Embarek resides, but through institutional travel. Even less with the technical equipment that we have, due to the war with Morocco. And that we have the support of the office of the Polisario Front in Madrid. During 2020 and part of the following year, we couldn't go either because
due to the health situation due to the pandemic it was impossible to travel there”, explains Agustín Domínguez.

The first

During the trip last October, he points out that they shot a “key” part of this documentary feature film that includes some passages from the life of the protagonist that will be recreated. It does not go into details so as not to reveal the ins and outs of the film, but it does advance that they filmed scenes with the team of deminers such as those that led the protagonist to make history in this enclave at the time. «
Now there are other women who lead demining crews, but Youguiha was the first to do so. For years there have been women within the gangs, in some cases 50% of them, but she was the first to lead one », she emphasizes.

Different moments of the filming of 'La Berma'. / c7

Domínguez learned of the existence of Youguiha Mohamed Embarek
reading an article published in the newspaper 'El País'. «The journalist traveled to cover the marathon through the Sahara desert and when he had free time he told the taxi driver who was accompanying him to take him to an interesting place to visit. And on that trip he met Youguiha. He took a picture of him and told the story », recalls the filmmaker and director of the San Rafael en Corto Film Festival, which concluded this Friday in Vecindario.

“I have been to the Saharawi camps many times. I think the first one was in 1998 or 1999. We have been to FiSahara nine times in a row, including the last one. The first few times I remember that it caught my attention to see how women took charge of everything and made the main decisions in all areas. AND
It is a matriarchal society, from which we have much to learn in terms of the empowerment of women. I have met women teachers, mayors, dispensaries, politicians, lawyers... but I didn't know there were deminers. So I contacted the journalist and he told me that Youguiha Mohamed Embarek was in the wilaya of Smara. So I contacted Smaco, the Saharawi anti-mine coordination office, in that wilaya. They told me yes, that he worked there, but that he was not there at the time. I asked about his whereabouts and they answered me:
Is in Spain. After explaining to them who he was, how many times he had been there and what he wanted, they gave me his mobile number », confesses the island filmmaker.

In Spain and back

Its protagonist was in Alicante, where there is, Agustín points out, an important Saharawi community. What was it doing there? «She was in Spain because she wanted to give birth here. Working as a deminer she falls in love with another deminer. She got married and she got pregnant. She then applied for a visa to enter Spain and came to the country. Her visa expired after three months and she remained irregular.
She gave birth and began the paperwork to obtain Spanish nationality for her daughter, to which she is entitled for having been born in Spain. He encountered the problem of the pandemic, with all the organizations closed or almost closed and so the months passed and passed. On the phone, every time we spoke he encouraged her and told her not to get impatient. Until one day he sends me a 'whaspp' with the Spanish passport photo of his daughter. And at the same time another with his own as a stateless person », she explains with emotion.

The future of Youguiha Mohamed Embarek does not end there. The next day he took a surprising turn. He embarked on a long journey with various stops that had Mauritania as its final destination.
«He beats himself up on a trip with his daughter, who is a year old. There she was waiting for her husband. He crossed the Sahara aboard his Land Rover. They met again and returned in the same vehicle to the wilaya of Smara, where they reside. Her goal was for the girl to have Spanish nationality, but for her to grow up with them there. When she grows up, let her decide for herself if she wants to continue there or come to Spain », explains Agustín Domínguez.

The inconveniences that 'La Berma' has had and still have to overcome to be recorded one hundred percent also have their positive side. «
We will shoot in different seasons of the year, which will give the film an important addition, which will also help to publicize how they live in the camps with cold and heat. The story is armed, but there are still many things to be resolved around Youguiha, especially what decisions he will make in the immediate future, "says Agustín Domínguez who prefers to omit more details.

From biology to demining

It does explain how this biologist became a deminer and how she ended up leading a crew. «After finishing her Biology studies she returned to the camps. One day, she was having tea with some friends and they told her about a British NGO that recruited people to demine and paid 400 euros. She decides that she has to help her family and she signs up.
Pass a preliminary interview and then spend a month doing internships in real areas with mines. There were 22 people and they knew that only half were going to stay working," says the filmmaker.

During a work day, in which he had already reached the rank of assistant to the leader of the gang, while he was working he observed that something was happening to him. «The gang leader goes from one place to another controlling and she, as his assistant, too.
But suddenly she saw that he is going towards her and in a hurry, when one of the rules they have is that they should not run. Before he could catch up with him, the leader passed out. They all stopped, called the doctor and by phone they gave them directions and took him to the ambulance, which was about 100 or 150 meters away. She was then in charge of the gang and later the NGO asked her to stay leading it", says the person in charge of 'La berma', a title that comes from the so-called "wall of shame", the Western Sahara area of
2,720 kilometers where millions of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines are buried.

During his last visits to the Saharawi camps in Algerian territory, Agustín Domínguez spoke with the residents about the change in position of the Government of Pedro Sánchez regarding the conflict with Morocco. «
They go to the death with the Spaniards, but they do not trust the governments. One of the metaphors of this documentary is that what the Spanish Government has not managed to do for the Saharawis in more than 48 years, this woman has achieved for her daughter in a year”, underlines the director from Gran Canaria.