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Tag "Labor Issue"
on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

BCB Promotional Poster for Champ of the Camp (2014). (Credit: BCB)

Mahmoud Kaabour’s film Champ of the Camp (2014)  opens up with the song of a South Asian man set against the backdrop of a modernistic building covered in glass windows. The song is called “Long Separation” and the setting is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This sort of  juxtaposition becomes thematic of the movie: the poor migrant worker stands in front of a luxurious building that was built by people like him but that will never be a space he could inhabit. The man sings: “No one knows my unknown story.” Through the film, Kaabour attempts to tell the story of this man and many others like him in the first ever documentary about the controversial labor camps in the UAE.

On the 7th of December, BCB showed just who and what are behind the shiny skyscrapers of the Emirates. We were lucky enough to have the Lebanese/UAE director Mahmoud Kaabour at the screening to discuss his award-winning documentary Champ of the Camp with us. The documentary was filmed in the UAE labor camps that house migrant workers from South Asia who are mainly employed as manual laborers in construction. For years, no one was allowed to film in these camps as it would cause controversy for the UAE: This kept these workers practically invisible to the international community. After years of trying to get the film permits, Kaabour and his team were finally allowed to shoot this film under the guise of making a documentary about a singing/talent competition for the migrant workers organized by Western Union.

“We were talking about the labor issue without talking about the labor issue. Otherwise, [the UAE government] would’ve shut us down,” explained Kaabour after the screening. Even though its tone is neutral, just with its existence, The Champ of the Camp has given the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers of the UAE a voice — a narrative voice as well as a singing one —  that they sorely lacked. 

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