The winner of the Best Short Documentary at the United States’ African Film Festival depicts an unusual community.

“Tent City” in the Central African Republic’s main airport is home to tens of thousands of people who have fled murderous gangs. The film’s title, “Zone III,” refers to the name given to the camp’s busiest area.

“We’re used to talking about my country only when there’s conflict or war,” says the film’s director, Pascale Serra, 36. “But we don’t talk about the people who are doing their best to move on and get over the trauma.”

Since 2013, Central African Republic has been experiencing violent conflict, starting when Muslim-majority Seleka rebels ousted President Bozize. Christian-majority groups reacted with vicious backlash, furthering the sectarian struggle.

Nearly half of the nation’s population was forced to take refuge in informal camps as a result of the violence.

Gangs armed with guns, knives, and machetes rampaged cities, creating chaos while simultaneously fighting for structure.

Despite the poor conditions of the nation as a whole and the makeshift tent society, the film portrays Zone III in a more positive light. The documentary chronicles the lives of citizens trying to find a sense of community during a time of turmoil.

Carpenters, mechanics, butchers, shoemakers, pig farmers, and restaurateurs are all featured among other members. The documentary shows citizens organizing dance classes, football matches, and wrestling tournaments rather than the squalor which the media often portrayals.

Most importantly, this movie demonstrates the art of survival.

“People created their own society within the camp – they were trying their best to survive while awaiting an improvement in their lives,” Serra added.

Begun in December of 2013, the camp housed over 100,000 people at its peak. People lived in hangars, tents just meters away from the runway and slept in unused aircrafts.

Individuals may have fled to the airport as it was deemed safe due to the presence of U.N. and French soldiers.

Life in the camp, however, was not healthy. Poisonous green-mamba snakes and malarial mosquitoes infected the site, as well as filthy living conditions.

Due to safety concerns, the government dismantled the camp in 2017.

According to Kenneth Chulley, a reintegration officer with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), many former residents are rebuilding homes in their previous neighborhoods.

UNHCR has built over 4,000 homes since 2017 with the help from charities.

The United Nations reports that nearly half of Central African Republic requires aid-related help. Meanwhile, 1.2 million are experiencing homelessness and about 600,000 are seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

Proceeds from “Zone III” are going to those most in need.


Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons