«The dream of Libya has always been with me,» says Khalid Shamis, narrating his documentary The Colonel’s Stray Dogs. For him, it is a second-hand, inherited dream, and the source of deep ambivalence and uncertainty. Growing up in a leafy suburb of London, Libya remained a place of mystery, closed to him under a brutal dictator who had declared his father an enemy. The film, which premiered this week at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, charts the assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but more than that it is a profoundly personal film of and about exile, as Khalid seeks to better understand the underground opposition activities of his father Ashur Shamis, and the risks of investing a family’s sense of belonging in a future land that does not yet exist.
Illusions and implications
Ashur Shamis had once inhabited and called a version of Libya home, but left the nation because his political resistance to Gaddafi made him a regime target, or as his security service file officially designated him and other dissidents, a «stray dog.» From London, he and other exiles published a magazine criticising Gaddafi’s activities, and formed the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a revolutionary group determined to use militant force against Gaddafi’s rule by any means possible, training and arming a military to overthrow him and put in place a government with a nationalist Islamist agenda that would enact reforms such as democratic elections. As a young, enthusiastic dissident, he predicted this would take just a few months; forty years later, Gaddafi is gone, but the Shamis family still remain in the English capital.
The beauty of Khalid’s filmmaking lies in his rejection of blinkered . . .
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