One Way: A Tuareg Journey

I saw the film One Way: A Tuareg Journey Friday night at Boise State University, at a special screening with director Fabio Caramaschi. The film is a beautifully rendered portrait of a nomadic/semi-nomadic Tuareg family from Niger that emigrates to Italy, seeking work and western education for their children.

Caramaschi, a photographer and elementary school teacher, first encountered the family when he met the mother during a trip to Niger to build a school. He explained during a Q&A following the film that he was able to call the father in Italy with a satellite phone, allowing them to speak for the first time in a year. Caramaschi then filmed the family over the course of eight years as the mother and two older kids moved to Italy. Caramaschi eventually returned with them to bring the youngest boy, who had stayed in the Sahara with his grandfather, “home” to Italy.

The film captures the family’s transition from the desert to the city, from Africa to Europe, from subsistence to “modernity” from the family’s point of view. Caramaschi gave a camera to the eldest son, Sidi, who shot hundreds of hours of footage in his neighborhood, interviewing kids in the park and shopkeepers and his own father and uncle. As the director, Caramaschi skillfully keeps himself and his views out of the film, allowing the characters to speak for themselves. While he is clearly the director, taking over for Sidi when questions fail and filming Sidi filming others, Sidi actually helped him edit the film in Rome, adding to the authenticity of the narrative.

Caramaschi also captures the anti-immigrant politics of the Liga Nord, the anti-immigrant party that is dominant in northern Italy and is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition. But he does it in a very subtle way, without hitting viewers over the head with politics. The story remains one of transition, journey, evolution.

While I agree with Caramaschi that it’s unlikely that Tuaregs who spend much time in Italy—or in any settled, urban environment—will ever go back to their nomadic lifestyle, trading salt and dates and millet by camel train in northwest Africa, I’m not sure it’s ever a one-way journey, or that that is inherently melancholic. The titile of the film is the one blatant instance of editorializing that appears, and Caramaschi, whom we joined for dinner after the screening, explained that the family was also surprised at the title.

I don’t think there are any one-way journeys in this day and age (or that nomadic people recognize the concept of a one-way journey). The Tuaregs are already active globally through migrant networks across North Africa and Southern Europe, through Twitter and through the natural inclination for travel—as Caramaschi explained, Agadez is remote, but is not really that far from Libya and Italy and beyond. It’s not far fetched to think that Niger and the Saharan region will one day in the near future see a political and economic resurgence (as is occurring in the nations to the north) and who better to lead that resurgence than the educated sons and daughters of the Tuareg diaspora?

The film has garnered many awards thus far including best script at the 2007 Siena documentary festival, best documentary at the 2011 Arcipelago film festival in Rome and the audience award at the 2011 Goshort festival in Holland, but I’m not sure where it’s possible to see it. I’d like to watch it again.