Iconic anti-apartheid fighter Andrew Mlangeni, imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years, has announced today that he will attend the Sahara International Film Festival held in a refugee camp in the Sahara desert later this month.

Mlangeni, now 89, who was sentenced with Mandela at the Rivonia trials and lived beside him in Robben Island and Pollsmoor prison will join hundreds of international actors, directors and cinephiles and thousands of Saharawi refugees. Now in its 11th edition, the festival, known as FiSahara, aims to both raise awareness of the plight of the refugees, displaced from their native Western Sahara for nearly four decades by an unlawful Moroccan occupation, and to empower them to tell their own story through film by leaving a lasting legacy of film-making skills and equipment in the camps.

This year’s festival will hold a special tribute to Mandela with specially chosen films, workshops and a performance by legendary South African musicians Jonas Mosa Gwangwa and Mariam Hassan. Mr Mlangeni will take part in a roundtable discussion with others include the Saharawi human rights defender, Mohammed Daddach, known as the Saharawi Mandela. Fittingly Nelson Mandela showed great solidarity with the Saharawi whose struggle he described as one “to achieve the freedom and self-determination that are rightfully theirs.”

Maria Carrion, FiSahara’s executive director, said today:

“We are deeply honoured that Andrew Mlangeni will be attending this year’s festival. Many of Nelson Mandela friend old friends admitted to feeling a void since their old friend’s passing. But despite the loss Mlangeni's fighting spirit is still strong and he is filling the void in the best way he knows how: by battling against injustice and oppression wherever it might be.”

Partnered by Amnesty International's Movies that Matter film festival, Robert Kennedy Foundation, Bertha Foundation and the Raindance Film Festival, this year’s programme includes over 30 films from around the world including documentaries to animations, short films to blockbusters. Oscar-nominated films Dirty Wars and The Square (Al Midan) will both be screened, with David Riker, screenwriter for Dirty Wars facilitating one of the many workshops. Other programme highlights include Argentinian 3-D comedy-animation Foosball, and Palestine’s first ever 3-D animated movie, The Scarecrow. It will also offer its trademark Saharawi-themed section with films dedicated to the Western Sahara, some made by students from FiSahara’s film school.

Festival guests will fly to Tindouf, Algeria, and travel over 100 miles in into the desert to Dakhla refugee camp, home to around 30,000 refugees. They will stay with refugee families, living in their homes and enjoying unique Saharawi hospitality. Film screenings will take place after sundown, projected onto multiplex-sized screens.

Javier Bardem, who has attended the festival said:

"Unlike most things planted in the desert, the FiSahara film festival has taken root and continues to grow and flourish. This, the 11th edition of FiSahara, demonstrates that the festival is increasingly attracting great films and great film-makers from around the world. In so doing the festival sends a signal to our political leaders that this crisis that can no-longer be ignored. It sends a signal to the UN that human rights in occupied Western Sahara must finally be monitored. And it sends a signal to the Saharawi refugees that despite their isolation, they have not been forgotten."

Ken Loach, a long-time supporter of the film festival who cannot attend this year, said:

“FiSahara is a film festival like none other and this year’s programme includes an impressive array of films including two Oscar-nominated documentaries. ¬¬The festival not only offers a unique cultural and educational experience for all who participate but also offers the Saharawi refugees, exiled from their native Western Sahara for almost four decades, a glimpse of what lies beyond their desiccated desert horizons. I encourage everyone to attend."