Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at the University of the Western Cape, Khalid Shamis, has directed and co-produced an incisive documentary about exile that features at the Encounters Film Festival starting today.
Part-South African, part-Libyan, Shamis completed The Colonel’s Stray Dogs during his artist residency at the CHR where he is now working towards his PhD under the supervision of Professor Premesh Lalu. It is Shamis’ second feature-length film, coming a decade after the release of Imam and I in 2011.
The documentary also recently premiered at the prestigious Hot Docs Festival in Canada.
In it, Shamis tells the story of his father, Ashur Shamis, who dedicated his life to the fight for a “free” Libya. With a bounty of over $1 million on his head, and marked by Gaddafi in the 1980s as one of the “stray dogs” that needed to be exterminated, Ashur spent 40 years in exile in London where he continued to oppose Gaddafi’s regime, at great cost to his family. As Shamis notes in the film: “For the 40 years he was in exile, killing Gaddafi was more important than living with us”.
In an interview with Sean Jacobs, aired on the commentary site “Africa is a Country (AIAC)”, Shamis explained that the documentary is not intended to be anti-Gaddafi. Rather, it offers an alternative view of Libya’s liberation, as seen through the eyes of one of Gaddafi’s marked opponents. “The general and specific spaces of exile and a lifetime under a dictator are experienced through memory, archive, observation and recollection. The film balances a story that explores the deeply political and deeply personal,” explained Shamis.
As much as the film is about his father’s relationship with Gaddafi, it is also an exploration of Shamis’ relationship with his father. It presented an opportunity to “have conversations about how we grew up with my Dad,” Shamis explained during a recent interview.
Supervisor Prof Premesh Lalu said: “The self-reflection entailed in Khalid’s commitment to exploring the humanistic aspects of his well-honed skills as a film editor is the hallmark of the very best traditions of humanities scholarship. His process is exemplary of a methodology for which the CHR at UWC has become globally recognised.”